CHICAGO — Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick Phil Bickford sure sounds like someone who wants to sign on the dotted line and forego his scholarship to Cal State Fullerton.
“The factors, as of now I’m just told to talk it through with my family and just see what happens,” the right-hander selected 10th overall said on a conference call Monday. “I’m excited for the opportunity to sign and start to pursue my big league career. …
“As of now, it’s still being discussed but when I know what the deal is, then we’ll see how it plays out pretty much.”
The assigned value to the No. 10 pick under baseball’s draft rules is $2,921,400 so the 17-year-old flame-thrower would be passing up on a significant payday to pitch in college.
Both Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and amateur scouting director Brian Parker expressed confidence Sunday that Bickford — described in some circles as a possible tough sign — would agree to a deal.
Bickford shot up the draft rankings the past year when his velocity spiked, reaching as high as 97 m.p.h., with a fastball Parker described as one of the best in the draft.
The increase, Bickford explained, came after a three-month break following the Area Codes prospect showcase last year which he spent “working out parts of my body that needed improvement and not touching the ball at all for those three months off.”
“When I came back,” he continued, “I started the long-toss program again, made some little tweaks to my arm slot, made sure I stayed on top of the ball and then the velocity just spoke for itself and I was fortunate enough to have a great season.”
While Parker feels Bickford’s fastball is good enough to get outs in professional baseball right away, his secondary pitches are more raw and in need of work. He features a slider and a changeup, but his fastball was so dominant in high school he often didn’t need his other stuff.
“It does need work and I’m excited to go through that process if I do sign with the Blue Jays and see what happens,” he said. “I have been working on it; it was mediocre at best in my junior year, but senior year I can confidently say it developed a lot. It’s not how it should be but it’s going to be a lot better.”
Bickford’s only experience with Canada was a vacation to Niagara Falls when he was 11, but noted how much he enjoys watching Jose Bautista’s home run on the sports highlights.
The reaction to being drafted by the Blue Jays on Thursday?
“I just reminded myself to stay calm and just enjoy it,” he recalled. “When the Blue Jays called my name with the 10th pick, the whole house just erupted and everybody was very excited. It was a very powerful moment.”
Bickford figured the Blue Jays might pick him because of all the background work they had done on him.
“They were calling a lot of family friends, my teams, my college counseling,” he said. “So I knew that there was interest. I had not spoken to them personally, but when it was their pick there was an idea I might have a shot of going there and then to actually see it happen was very cool.”