June 9, 2013
RHP / 17 years old / 6′ 4″ 195 lbs.
High School: Oaks Christian (Westlake Village, CA)
College: Committed to Cal State Fullerton
Baseball America Rank: 18
Perfect Game/Baseball Prospectus Rank: 17
ESPN Rank: 55
- Threw a two-hitter with 15 strikeouts on April 27
- Finished with 159 strikeouts in 99 innings as a high school senior
- Draws comparisons to Angels RHP Jered Weaver
- One rumor heard by Keith Law: Jays would draft him and “tell him to take less money or go to school”
- Apparently asking for a “very large” bonus, possibly “top-four pick” money
After the Pirates selected high school outfielder Austin Meadows, a player that Toronto would supposedly have selected had he still been available, it was the Blue Jays’ turn to make their first selection of the 2013 draft. Quality players were available—University of Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley and high school catcher Reese McGuire were among the top available names—but under first year farm director Brian Parker, it was anybody’s guess as to who the Jays would select. As it’s been known for the last few days, the Blue Jays went with hard-throwing prep righty Phil Bickford from California.
Over the years, we’ve heard the words that describe the kind of pitcher the Blue Jays like to draft—young, tall, projectable, athletic—and all of those describe Bickford. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, he still has room to grow physically which, given his best pitch at the moment, will make him an interesting prospect to follow over the next few years.
Read any article about Bickford and every single one will mention his biggest selling point: his fastball. After topping out at 88 mph with his heater over a year ago, Bickford had perhaps the most helium in the 2013 draft class after he was seen sitting mid-90s throughout entire starts with his fastball and even touching 97. There are similarities between Bickford and former Blue Jays 2010 draft pick Noah Syndergaard, who also happened to have a 15-strikeout game under his belt prior to getting drafted, who also overpowered high school hitters with his fastball and who also needed to develop his off-speed pitches. Syndergaard signed for merely $600,000, nearly one fifth of the $2,921,400 recommended slot value for where the Blue Jays drafted Bickford at 10th overall.
While Bickford’s impressive velocity at his age is one thing, what’s more remarkable is reading about his fastball command. Perhaps the best (read: my favorite) comment was from Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos to the Toronto Star, when he said Bickford “just pours in strikes”. Baseball America adds that Bickford “has a clean arm action and a three-quarters slot that gives his fastball good life” and that “he commands it well to both sides, prompting some scouts to grade it as a 70 pitch on the 20-80 scale.”
The main knock against Bickford is that, to quote ESPN’s Keith Law, his lack of a breaking ball is a real concern. “He shows glimpses of a fringe-average slider, but he needs to do a better job staying on top of it,” writes Baseball America. and right now it’s a slurvy pitch in the 78-81 mph range, according to Perfect Game’s David Rawnsley. Other reports mentioned that Bickford’s changeup is also a work in progress, since he rarely used the pitch against opposing hitters because he could just dominate them with his fastball.
Luckily for Bickford, the Blue Jays’ organizational philosophy is to introduce and stress the importance of a good changeup at a young age, which is why I’m looking forward to, assuming he signs with the Blue Jays, dreaming on Bickford a bit more than most people. If a 17-year-old can already command a plus, possibly plus-plus, fastball, that’s impressive in itself, and Bickford’s heater would become even more effective if he’s able to consistently throw a good changeup.
Obviously Bickford’s ultimate ceiling depends on whether he’s able to really develop his off-speed pitches, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him breeze through the three short-season levels using just his fastball and changeup. Then, once he’s in full-season ball, re-introduce and refine the slurvy third pitch, once the changeup is established and when it can truly complement his fastball.
Bickford’s already committed to Cal State Fullerton and considered a tough sign. It appears the Blue Jays are confident they’ll sign him, though, and a quick glance at the Jays’ selections in the next few rounds implies that the extra money should be there in the event that the California native is in fact looking for an over-slot deal.
“We’ve checked into this kid’s background,” Parker told the National Post. “We’ve looked into him, and we’re confident we can get this guy signed.”
Here’s additional information from first-hand sources on Bickford, including an excerpt from a must-read report over at Perfect Game:
“Based on watching video and talking to scouts this spring, Bickford has moved forward in every area. His fastball has been sitting in the 92-95 mph range for entire performances, topping out at 97-98 at times, and Bickford has shown an impressive ability to dial up his best stuff in tight game situations regardless of the inning or if he is pitching from the stretch. In fact, this mature ability to bear down and dominate hitters when he needs outs the most has been mentioned over and over by scouts this spring.”
“[Bickford] pitches comfortably in the 90-93 mph range and regularly runs his fastball up to 95-96. [...] He’s a short strider with an upright finish, and sometimes his slot drops below three-quarters, causing him to pitch uphill. [...] Bickford’s secondary stuff lags behind his fastball. Bickford pumps strikes and works quickly, and his upside could get him drafted in the back of the first round,
“He will sit 90-93 mph and has touched 96 with riding life on it, a pitch that appears to explode in on hitters late. His lack of a breaking ball is a real concern — his curveball is well below-average, lacking depth and easily visible out of his hand, while his slider is flat thanks to his low three-quarters arm slot. His arm action is very clean and he’s got a great pitchers’ body, leading one scout to suggest to me that Bickford might hit 100 mph at some point, easy to believe when you see how quick his arm is.”
“One of the better power arms in the class, Bickford has seen a meteoric rise this spring. Having run his fastball as high as 97 mph, Bickford typically works in the 91-94 range comfortably, and the combination of arm speed and size makes him very intriguing.”
Brian Parker on Bickford: “We feel has has one of the best fastballs, high school or college, in the draft. … It’s a high ceiling arm.”
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) June 7, 2013
.@bluejays GM Alex Anthopolous on Phil Bickford: The most impressive thing about him, probably has the best fastball command in the draft.
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) June 7, 2013