Phil Bickford turns 18 years old Tuesday. By Friday, the Toronto Blue Jays’ first round draft pick will know if he’ll be celebrating his birthday with a professional contract or a college career at Cal State Fullerton.
In the meantime, Bickford will continue enjoying a short break from the mound, according to his high school coach.
Tim Penprase, who coached Bickford at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif. for four years, didn’t get the sense that Bickford was bothered by the uncertainty when they spoke recently.
In fact, Bickford seems more likely to be found in a tank top on the beach than sweating beside his phone in anticipation of the July 12 signing deadline for 2013 draftees.
“He said it’s intense, but that’s not really his personality to worry,” Penprase said.
“I think he’s ready for whatever comes to him. He would love to sign. He’s really happy about the organization that chose him.”
Penprase describes Bickford as a “jokester” off of the field and a “complete bulldog” on it. There’s no doubt that the kind of player who keeps Ronald McDonald shoes in his locker has a silly side.
It took Bickford a while to get where he is now. When Penprase first started coaching Bickford as a freshman, the teenager threw across his body with a much lower arm slot than his current three quarters delivery.
“He really liked to be a lot lower with his arm slot, but it just wasn’t going to be effective for him long-term,” Penprase recalls.
Then, during the 2012 summer preceding his senior year, Bickford started working out in earnest. He added muscle and now stands 6’4” and 195 pounds.
“I’m not a doctor, but I don’t think he’s done growing,” Penprase said.
Not coincidentally, Bickford also made a “huge jump” in terms of fastball velocity, going from 91-92 m.p.h. to 97 m.p.h. in one year. He also throws a change-up -- not that he needed it against fellow high schoolers -- and a slider with bite.
“I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet, that’s for sure,” Penprase said.
The Blue Jays evidently agree. They selected Bickford 10th overall last month, a slot that comes with a recommended bonus of $2.9 million.
Flexibility exists for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and amateur scouting director Brian Parker, as they can allocate savings toward tough-to-sign picks. However, they are expected to use extra pool space on Jake Brentz, Sam Tewes or Rowdy Tellez, rather than Bickford, who is being advised by The Legacy Agency.
Since the high school season ended, Bickford has thrown on the side to stay in shape. However, he has not pitched in a competitive game recently.
That could change before long, it’s just a question of whether he'll be facing college hitters or pros.