For a player who hasn’t even ascended to Double-A yet, newly acquired Brewers RHP Phil Bickford has had a very interesting career. As a rising senior in high school, Bickford was sitting 87-90 mph and generating very little buzz. In the middle of the following spring, however, he was suddenly sitting 91-96 with unusually advanced command and feel for a slider. He suddenly became a first-round prospect, but teams also had very little history with him and had a difficult time getting to know the kid at all.
When draft day came, Bickford’s stock was seen as volatile but the Blue Jays popped him 10th overall. He didn’t sign. The circumstances that led to the collapse of negotiations are foggy. It makes sense that it was something medical, but Bickford has never had surgery or missed time with any kind of shoulder or elbow ailment, no benign soreness of any kind.
Bickford matriculated to Cal State Fullerton and had a solid freshman season, splitting time between the bullpen and rotation, before heading to the Cape Cod League as a rising sophomore. He blew up on the Cape and announced late that summer that he’d be transferring to a junior college in order to become draft eligible for the following spring. He ended up at the College of Southern Nevada, where I saw him a few times, and though reports on his velo and stuff were suspiciously erratic, he was consistently 90-94, reaching back for 95 or 96 on occasion, while still showing the advanced command he did in high school and an average slider. I had a late-first-round grade on him, viewing him as a league-average starter who lived off of fastball and slider command.
The Giants drafted him 18th overall. I saw Bickford again, post-draft, and things were the same. This season, his velocity has taken a step backward. At the Futures Game, he was 89-92 and having issues throwing strikes. He’s been 88-92 for much of this year and his slider has lacked consistency. He’s finally showing a changeup with regularity but it’s been poor. This may be a random downtick in stuff that plenty of now dominant big-league starters experienced as they increased their workloads as prospects, or it may be a sign that the best of Bickford has come and gone.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.
PEDs to increase the velo in high school and college, which the Jay’s found out about? Now off them, with minor league testing? Or some kind of developing injury? Bad conditioning/weight?