TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays set themselves up with two of the kind of high-ceiling pitchers that are part of the organizational blueprint in the first two rounds of the draft Thursday night, while also potentially creating some space in their bonus pool to help them be aggressive later on.
Brian Parker, the amateur scouting director running his first draft, used the 10th overall pick on right-hander Phil Bickford, a thunder-armed righty who has touched 97 m.p.h. this spring but has a commitment to Cal State Fullerton, and then chose another high-schooler at No. 47, selecting Clinton Hollon, a right-hander who may come in below slot because of arm issues last spring.
The assigned value for the 10th spot is $2,921,400 and 47 comes in at $1,168,200.
While there’s talk Bickford may be a tough sign, he’d be taking a significant risk in leaving that much money on the table to play college ball. The same goes for Hollon, who is committed to the University of Kentucky, and may seek to rebuild his value there, but may want to take some dough now after being shut down last summer because of forearm tendonitis.
Either way, the Blue Jays showed no reluctance to take chances in the draft despite not having any extra picks for the first time since 2008, and Parker sounded very confident about his chances of locking up Bickford.
“We looked into him,” he said shortly after making the selection, “and we’re confident that we can get this guy signed.”
Bickford, who won’t turn 18 until July 10, stands six-foot-four and 195 pounds with a fastball that sits 93-94. Parker first saw him last summer at an Area Code tournament, “and we’ve been on him ever since.”
“This is one of those guys, it’s everything we’re looking for,” Parker continued. “He’s tall, he’s athletic, young with a good arm, it’s a high ceiling arm, just the type of guy we’re looking for.”
The Blue Jays have $6,398,200 to spend on players selected within the first 10 rounds, and can exceed that total by up to five per cent by paying a penalty. If they exceed five per cent, they will forfeit future picks. Teams can spend up to $100,000 on picks from rounds 11-40 without violating spending rules.
Word is that they’ve lined up several inexpensive senior signs for the latter part of their first 10 picks – a strategy they employed last year in Rounds 4-10. Teams have until July 12 to sign high school seniors and college juniors. There’s no firm deadline for signing college seniors.
Recommended slot value of the Blue Jays’ selections through round 10:
Parker described Bickford, from Ventura, Calif., as a pitcher who’s both polished and raw. He added that “when he signs he’ll go down to Florida and be in Dunedin” where they’ll figure out which level to start him at this summer.
“We think the fastball is a very polished pitch, a very effective pitch that he can use right now to get outs in pro ball,” said Parker. “We think the secondary stuff is developing. We think the changeup is his better pitch right now but we think he’s got a chance to have a pretty good changeup and breaking ball, so I think there are some development opportunities on that side of it.”
In a feature story last month, the L.A. Times noted that while growing up, Bickford used to practice hitting a target low and away 10 consecutive times before he could move on.
In turn that’s led to his impressive fastball command, a trait that allowed him to strike out 159 batters in 99.1 innings this season, including 18 last Saturday in leading Oaks Christian past Pico Rivera El Rancho 4-0 in the Southern Section Division 4 championship.
“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 the fastball,” said Parker. “We feel he has one of the best fastballs, college or high school, in the draft.”
Hollon, smaller than Bickford at six feet and 191 pounds, was bringing it in the mid-90s this spring for Woodford County High School in Kentucky. Like Bickford, he’s also a good athlete, something important for the Blue Jays, and the arm issues last year didn’t deter them.
In 2011, the Blue Jays drafted John Stilson in the third round after a shoulder injury led his stock to plummet, and the right-hander is at triple-A Buffalo now.
“Athleticism is something we focus on, especially with high school kids,” said Parker. “Those are the types of frames and athletes we’re looking to get into our rotation and lead our rotation one day.
“(Bickford) has an athletic delivery and those are the types of things we look for, as long as they’ve got some athleticism and some on-field ability, those are things with normal player development they can progress into the type of guy we’re looking for.”
They’ll have their eye out for more of the same when the draft resumes with Rounds 3-10 on Friday and concludes Saturday with the final 30 rounds.
Parker took over last summer after Andrew Tinnish was promoted to assistant GM but certainly continued drafting in the fashion of his predecessor. And like Tinnish in his debut year with the selections of Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, the Blue Jays have added two more power arms to the organization, provided they sign.
“It’s an exciting time,” Parker said of the feeling he had calling in his first pick. “It’s a long day waiting to get to our pick, we picked 10th, with everything going on we had our board lined up and were just waiting to see who was there when we picked. Once it became obvious who would be there, we were very excited as a group and as a staff. This was a guy we had targeted and we were able to get him.”
They got him, and Hollon, and have two more days for the rest of their plan to unfold.