An electric arm that can bring the heat and at the same time throw for strikes on a consistent basis is highly sought after by professional ball clubs come draft season. That talented arm came in the form of California prep star Phil Bickford and the Toronto Blue Jays made sure to lock him up with their first pick (10th overall) in this year’s First-Year Player Draft.
Despite the allure of a lucrative signing bonus and the opportunity to hone his skills with a professional development staff, Bickford made the decision to forgo professional ball and stay true to his commitment to play college ball at Cal State Fullerton.
It was his ability to throw hard and for strikes that initially garnered the attention of scouts in the Blue Jays organization, as explained by Toronto scouting director Brian Parker:
“One of the things we like, and one of the things we work on in this organization, is fastball effectiveness, fastball command and the ability to throw strikes and get people out with his fastball.
“We feel he had one of the best fastballs—college or high school—in the draft.”
Positing that Bickford had one of the best fastballs in the 2013 draft class is an impressive, yet bold statement to make, especially when surrounded by the likes of Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray (both of whom possess potential 8-grade fastball offerings) and being selected before Braden Shipley, a seasoned college arm with an electric heater.
Even amidst the impressive company, it is safe to argue that Bickford did in fact have not only one of the better fastball offerings, but also one of the best overall compositions in terms of pure talent in his respective draft class.
Bickford employs an effective three-quarter arm slot that allows him to deliver the ball with added life, particularly on his fastball. He generates solid arm action from the right side, due in part to impressive arm speed and a clean, smooth point of release.
He possesses a strong frame (6-4, 200) and is able to effectively make use of his strong lower half throughout his delivery.
His three-quarter slot allows him to generate late riding life on his fastball, an explosive pitch that he can work anywhere between 91-94 mph and reach back for an extra few ticks if necessary.
He possesses great control of the pitch within the zone and his ability to generate lively movement allows him to compensate for command, which can be easily refined with further development.
The fact that his heater is probably effective enough at the moment to get batters out at the professional level, while having a high ceiling at the same time is frighteningly impressive.
While his fastball is more than impressive, it appears to be his only average pitch at the moment, which is definitely a reason for concern.
He possesses a changeup that has the potential to become an above-average offering down the line, but for the time being it is not an effective part of his pitch arsenal. This is due to the fact that he does not utilize the pitch as often as he probably should, which is most likely a result of his inability to find a definitive grip that works and his maintain consistent command of the pitch.
His three-quarter arm slot will allow for him to generate good fading movement once he gets a solid feel for the pitch, but he needs plenty of reps before he gets to that level of comfort.
The same can be said in regards to his breaking ball, wherein he employs a slider that projects to be an average pitch at the next level. He lacks effective breaking movement (little tilt, flat offering) and overall command of the pitch, but a dose of confidence may be a big help in helping him grasp a comfortable feel for the pitch.
However, various scouts are positive that he will able to get a good hold of the pitch, as it has shown potential to become a decent swing-and-miss/secondary option.
At the moment, Bickford is clearly more of a thrower than a pitcher, but he pure talent level is through the roof. His ceiling is quite large due in part to a phenomenal fastball offering and the skill set that can spawn a solid set of secondary options with the proper development.
Bickford is burgeoning with talent that may allow him to develop into a number two starter at the big league level, but for now he will look to hone and develop his skill set as a member of the Fullerton Titans, as they attempt to dominate the Big West Conference yet again and seek out their fifth national championship (and first since 2004) in school history.