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Juco | Story | 2/7/2015

Game report: Phil Bickford

Mike Rooney     
Photo: Perfect Game

2015 Perfect Game College Baseball Preview Index | Top 200 Junior College Prospects

College of Southern Nevada righthander Phil Bickford pitched in the Phoenix area on Saturday facing local program South Mountain Community College. For perspective, South Mountain is a solid to above average Division I juco program, but not quite viewed as being on the same level of perennial national powers like Central Arizona and Iowa Western.

Also important to keep in mind is that the junior college conferences in the Southwest corner of the country use wood bats, and many hitters use less explosive but unbreakable composite wood bats because of the cost. Advantage pitcher.

Forty plus professional scouts were in attendance for the outing on a perfectly sunny 68-degree day. The heat in attendance was not disappointed, at least not in Bickford himself.

Bickford’s fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range, touching 94 on some guns. Without question this pitch plays much better than the number typically would indicate. The four-seamer explodes on hitters due to his outstanding extension which we’ll touch on shortly.

He also threw an occasional two-seamer that touched 90 mph and mixed in a couple of changeups late in the outing. South Mountain’s lineup included just one lefthanded hitter so the two-seamer was a less favorable option. The changeup was a different matter altogether.

Bickford struggled mightily in the bullpen with the changeup and he and his pitching coach seemed to come to a consensus to scrap it for the day. There was very little feel for the pitch today and he had trouble locating it.

Bickford’s slider was very effective all day, mostly because his fastball was dominant from the get-go. The slider is an average pitch on its own, a little slurvy at times but most often a strike. It sat around 80 mph but didn’t have great depth.

From a results standpoint, Bickford punched out nine in 5 2/3 innings and didn’t give up a hit until the sixth. Of the three hits he did give up, only one was hit hard, but it was a three-run bomb off of the bat of Sebastian Zawada on a fastball up and in.

There is a lot to like with Bickford and it begins with his fastball and ends with his natural born talent to pitch. The frame is every bit of 6-foot-4 and he has the legs of someone 6-foot-8. One scout commented that the uber-athletic Bickford almost “prances off the mound.” The arm swing is short and the arm itself is lightning fast. It is an easy delivery with an outstanding combination of balance and explosion. All of this contributes to a special fastball, with the four-seamer well ahead of the two-seamer at this point in time.

Bickford’s fastball is naturally down in the zone with late life. He located in, out and up today with very little difficulty. Because the arm swing is so compact, his extension out in front is elite, thus the giddy-up, as the pitch virtually jumps into the strike zone. While the swings and misses were minimal today, he consistently locked hitters up with location and the electricity of his fastball.

The aforementioned disappointment from the scouting community was not in Phil Bickford the pitcher, as this is a special talent with an easy arm and live fastball. The challenge is that Bickford represents a very tricky draft profile.

Bickford’s fastball is an overwhelming pitch that could easily run him into the top half of the first round. However, matters are complicated when you factor in that he was the 10
th overall pick of the 2013 draft and chose to not to sign, instead enrolling at Cal State Fullerton.

Yet if he is in fact a “one elite pitch” arm with serviceable secondary offerings, doesn’t that make him a reliever at the highest level? His mid- to upper-90s velocity from the Cape last summer did in fact come in short busts. However, Bickford’s fastball has the “wow” factor and it speaks to an arm talent that might lead one to believe that he could and should be able to develop a more well-rounded arsenal.

Bickford’s work ethic and aptitude will ultimately determine his big league future. For the scouting community, is the first half of the first round too steep a price to pay for a current reliever profile? Or do you see a special talent with an elite pitch who may have more in the tank?

However this turns out, Phil Bickford is worth seeing in person. The fastball is a special pitch that made me giggle at one point today. Witnessing elite natural talent like Bickford’s in person never gets old and reminds us why we love this great game so much.

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