College : : Story
Monday, August 25, 2014

Bickford surprisingly leaves Fullerton

Kendall Rogers        

MORE ON BICKFORD: Summer Player of the Year

Prized righthanded pitcher Phil Bickford made headlines out of high school when he spurned the Toronto Blue Jays as a first-round pick and the 10th overall pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft to attend Cal State Fullerton. On Monday, Bickford again sent surprising shockwaves through the baseball community by opting not to return to Fullerton — one of the nation’s most prestigious baseball programs — this fall.

Bickford’s decision not to return to Cal State Fullerton comes as a shock to those close to the Titans program. Bickford, of course, put together a phenomenal summer for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, showing more electric stuff, compiling impressive numbers and earning Perfect Game Summer Player of the Year honors as a result of his performances over the past few months.

Bickford’s showing this summer was the continuation of what was an impressive year for the 6-foot-4, 200-pound, righty. Bickford appeared in 20 games for the Titans in 2014, 10 of those starts, and blossomed as the season progressed. The righty went 6-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 76 innings, while striking out 74 and walking 13. Bickford earned Perfect Game Freshman All-American honors following the spring.

So, with Bickford leaving Cal State Fullerton, who gets his services? That’s a terrific question, and one that will soon be answered. Sources informed Perfect Game that Bickford would rather test the waters in the MLB draft next summer, while had he returned to Fullerton, the righty would’ve been forced to wait two summers before getting drafted again.

That gives the heralded sophomore, who suddenly is one of the top prospects for the 2015 MLB draft, two intriguing options: First, Bickford could choose to play in an independent professional league until next summer, where as he could then be drafted. Bickford will give that option a strong look, I’m told. His other option is to head to a junior college, where as, again, he would be eligible to enter the 2015 MLB draft. Given some of the smoke surrounding other elite prospects who have either transferred to or are considering Yavapai College, one would wonder if Bickford heads that route. However, keep an eye on Cypress (Calif.) College. Scott Pickler, his summer coach, is the head coach at Cypress, and making that his next destination certainly would make some sense.

Pickler had high praise for Bickford in our Summer Player of the Year feature, released last week.

“He was absolutely everything we had heard he was going to be,” Pickler said. “His velocity when he started wasn’t as high, but once he got into that closer role, he just reached back and started punching guys out.

“He didn’t only come into games and do a great job of commanding the strike zone, he did so by staying down in the zone with his fastball,” he continued. “He had a confidence about him, and it was something that really resonated with the rest of our team.”

Bickford took the Cape Cod League by storm this summer. He tallied a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings, while also striking out 33 and walking just five batters. Bickford typically sat 90-93 with his fastball as a starting pitcher in the spring for the Titans, but rose to the occasion this summer out of the bullpen, sitting 93-97 with his fastball, consistently, while also touching 98 mph on the radar gun at times. Another big key for Bickford this summer was improving his secondary stuff, with his changeup and slider becoming better offerings.

While Bickford plots a new, and surprising, path for his baseball career, he still leaves the Titans in good shape from a pitching standpoint. Cal State Fullerton will still possess two of the nation’s elite starting pitchers in 2015 in Thomas Eshelman and Justin Garza, both good prospects, and offense, not pitching, will be the concern entering the spring.

Still, the Titans would’ve loved to have Bickford’s premier arm finishing out the weekend in the starting rotation.

Bickford has plans of his own. They just no longer include Cal State Fullerton.

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