Phil Bickford is a bit of an odd duck. He stands about six feet, five inches and doesn't weigh a pound over 180. Bickford has bushy, blonde hair that doesn't quite fit under his cap. In high school, Bickford was relatively untouchable as a four year varsity player at Oaks Christian HS in California. His senior season, Bickford posted a 12-1 record with a 0.83 ERA and 146 SO in 84.2 IP.
After high school, he was drafted out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays tenth overall. He did not sign and instead choose to keep his commitment to Cal State Fullerton. In his freshman season at CSF, Phil pitched 76 innings and was able to strikeout 74 batters, while putting up a 2.13 ERA. In 2014, Bickford did spend a summer in the Cape Cod League where he was named "Outstanding Pro Prospect". After performing well in the Cape Cod League, Bickford left CSF for the infamous Community College of Southern Nevada.
CSN is a Junior College in Las Vegas, NV and primarily plays teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The thing that makes CSN appealing is that their program and most of the schools in the SWAC, use wood bats. I called this school infamous because this is the same Juco that Bryce Harper ended up at in 2010 after earning his GED. While at CSN, Bickford posted some unreal numbers: 9-1, 1.45 ERA, 86.2 IP, 166 K/21 BB, 45H/14ER.
Fast Forward to June of 2015, Bickford is drafted 18th overall by the San Francisco Giants. Despite putting up great collegiate numbers at CSF and CSN, he still fell eight spots from 2013 to 2015. In 2015, Bickford received a $2,333,800 signing bonus for signing with the Giants which was identical to the slot value of the pick. In this year's draft, the 10th pick was valued at $3,351,000 whereas in 2013, it was valued at $2,900,000. Theoretically, Bickford left about $750,000 to $1,000,000 on the table by not signing in 2013.
Bickford could have declined the Giants offer and re-entered the draft for a third time but of course he would have lost a lot of leverage and bargaining power. After signing with Giants, Bickford was assigned to the Arizona Rookie League where he has been pitching as a starter since his assignment.
I was able to see Mr. Bickford on Tuesday night against the AZL Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Currently, MLBPipeline.com has Bickford rated as the number three prospect on the Giants top 30 list. His pitch repertoire includes a plus fastball, a slider, and a change-up. His fastball is his most interesting pitch, mainly because it has been clocked around 92 MPH, in college and as high as 98 MPH in the Cape Cod League. In the Cape, Bickford was primarily a reliever while in College he was mostly a starter. Stamina and pre-game work could be part of the reason that his velocity differs from time to time.
Bickford's slider is his next best pitch but it still needs work to develop as a solid second pitch. On Tuesday, Bickford made his seventh start in the AZL and it was his longest outing of his professional summer. Bickford's line was: 3.0 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 3K, 0 BB. It was Bickford's longest outing since signing but he looked ineffective at certain moments and dazzling at others. His fastball was really working for him on Tuesday but he did not locate his secondary stuff with accuracy. Bickford should dominate at this level but, so far he has been relatively pedestrian. On the year his numbers are: 14.0 IP, 0-1, 7 GS, 3.21 ERA, 9 H, 5 ER, 14K/4BB.
Despite the early numbers in Arizona, I believe that Bickford needs to work on his secondary pitches. He can blow away AZL hitters with his fastball alone but that won't work by itself at higher levels. He will make his full-season debut next year, but I think a generous prediction is that he won't see the Giants rotation until 2018 at the earliest.