Phil Bickford

It’s a little bit hard to gauge prep right-hander Phil Bickford, who the Jays made the tenth overall selection in the draft tonight, based on some of the reports that are out there, seeing as his stock rose so high so quickly. He’s certainly a high-risk, high-reward pick as a flamethrowing high school arm with little in the way of a breaking ball.

In today’s piece at the Toronto Star, Brendan Kennedy wrote that “the right-hander has rocketed up mock draft charts with his strong play of late, including striking out 17 batters last weekend. He is considered a high-risk pick since his skills remain so raw and he has yet to develop a decent breaking ball. But he can already throw a fastball in the mid-90s and some scouts believe he’s just getting started.”

Keith Law, however, isn’t so sure:

“His lack of a breaking ball is a real concern,” Law writes in his scouting report at “His curveball is well below-average, lacking depth and easily visible out of his hand, while his slider is flat thanks to his low three-quarters arm slot.”

More interestingly, as I noted in today’s Draft Primer post, Law said today in his final mock that he’s “heard one rumor they’d take Bickford and tell him to take less money or go to school,” after earlier noting Bickford had “put out such a huge bonus demand this week that some teams are scared off.”

It’s hard to know what to make of that, because we also know that last year the Jays were unfazed by the notion of taking guys with signability issues– particularly because of their strategy in rounds four through ten, which saw them take low-end college seniors with tiny bonus demands, which allowed them to pool extra money in order to ink deals with both Matt Smoral and Anthony Alford, who similarly scared teams off.

And it’s not like the Jays don’t have a decent record with taking prep right-handers who looked like a reach: they took Noah Syndergaard out of Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas, with the 38th pick in 2010, though his name appeared on neither Keith Law’s top 100 draft prospects list, nor the top 200 produced by Baseball America.

It’s not all bad, either. Baseball Prospectus ranked Bickford much higher than Law, for example, putting him all the way up at 17th overall, and having a much better view of his secondary stuff. “He has big depth on his sweeping breaking ball at 78-80, and it is a swing and miss pitch, though he will need to learn to develop better feel for it to force hitters to swing on it at the next level,” they write.

So, rather obviously, we’ll have to wait and see who ends up being right– and it’s going to take years. Though, actually, we can see Bickford in action right away, in this YouTube clip of his full performance last Saturday (in 8 minutes) in California’s Division 4 high school championship game. His line, according to the clip’s description: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 18 Ks.


Round Two: With their second pick, 47th overall, the Jays have taken Kentucky prep right-hander Clinton Hollon, who was 73rd on Keith Law’s board, and who gets a Jeremy Guthrie comp from, as they note his stature (6’1), and explain that he, “while not the biggest guy in the world, has some serious arm strength. He can get his fastball up to the mid-90s with a decent breaking ball to go with it. He even shows some feel for a changeup, giving him the chance to have a full repertoire of at least Major League average pitches.”

Even more intriguingly, a year ago Jason Churchill of called Hollin the nation’s top high school junior arm, noting that despite his size and a delivery with some red flags, that he “has bumped 97 mph on the radar gun. And despite some red flags with his delivery, he has the best arm in the prep class of 2013.” Churchill adds that “he’s well built at 195 pounds and offers an upper-80s curveball, a mid-80s slider and a changeup. His slider may be his best shot at an out pitch at the next level.”

And perhaps crucially, jumping back to the note, we see that, more than anything “he needed to show he was healthy this spring after leaving the East Coast Pro Showcase with forearm tendinitis and not pitching for the rest of the summer.” So… maybe the Jays think that he’s going to get back to where he was when he was the top prep arm? I could buy that.


Image via the Los Angeles Times.

Comments (70)

  1. Well, it’s a crap shoot. If Bickford developes (and signs) he might be with the team about the time the Rogers Centre has grass.

  2. If the Blue Jay minor league pitching coaches teach Hollon to be consistant with his delivery – this kid will be a #2 starter in the majors.

    He will be the best pick of this draft for the Blue Jays

  3. Name rankings

    Clinton Hollin > Phil Bickford

  4. High school pitchers in the first two rounds…by far the lowest success rate of all first two round picks. Lowest average WAR, Most busts, fewest All Stars and even the high end (most successful of the top 100 picks from each draft, high school pitcher ranks 4th). Bats, bats, bats should have been the direction but it is what it is.

    • You’re the guy who hilariously thinks he has it all figured out over on that Jays message board, eh?

      • I’m just a numbers guy. I think the Jays have done well with the high school pitchers they have picked…but it’s a flawed system. High School pitchers cost more money and provide more busts and less A and B level players (A Level Being HOF type pitchers), B Level being All Star type performers. So Higher bust rate and at least from 1990 to 2006 the years for which I ran the stats, there are fewer stars as well.

        • But they have value nonetheless. Plenty of time for them to develop just enough to be part of a trade for an MLB bat or what-have-you.

          • This is the most prescient point. The players drafted do not exist in a vacuum whereby they are drafted, developed or not developed by one team and provide value on the big club or do not. Minor league pitchers with high upside provide a fantastic return in a trade especially when you consider their flame out rate.

            • That doesn’t change anything. High school pitchers take a couple years to build up trade value, and by then many of them haven’t developed as hoped.

              Obviously once they become Major League ready, they have as much value as any pitcher with their capabilities.

    • Yeah because the Blue Jays have so many pitchers this year, I’m sure they can just keep Ortiz around for another 10-12 years, no need to draft pitchers

      • I’m not saying to abandon drafting pitchers. I’m just saying that going 100% of your higher picks with High School pitchers will generally provide you with the lowest return on your investment. The drop off of success rate on 1st round high school pitchers, to 2nd round HS Pitchers to 3rd to 5th is much lower than the drop off for College Hitters, HS Hitters and College pitchers. Now admittedly the system has changed so it is possible that some of those 3rd to 5th round pitchers were actually paid 1st round signing bonuses.

        I’m no fool, you can’t just say “draft a hitter in round one and two and then get your pitchers in 3 through 5 and you’ll have success”. You still need to find the right players and hopefully scout as many as possible.

        Of the 153 High School pitchers drafted from 1990, 102 have provided less than 1 bWAR. Only 11 have provided more than 20 bWAR of those 11 just Halladay and CC have provide more than 50 bWAR. I have the numbers for College Pitchers and Hitters as well.

        • Sorry I should have pointed out, those numbers are for high school pitchers in the first round only.

          • Well put. I don’t know why everyone is so scared at using both stats and scouting at the same time.

            Blowing your wad on high school pitchers every single year is a bad strategy in the long run and those numbers back it up. The Jays may have an army of scouts and it may look like the Lansing 3 will work out, but that doesn’t validate this approach.

            • Not if pitchers are generally worth more … The point of the draft as far as I’m concerned is choosing value … regardless of everything else. Like playing the market and choosing what currency will be worth more next year, or the year after. Instead of taking a chance and drafting your next franchise player, why not take less of a chance and draft players that can be flipped for a sure-thing mlb ready player. Let some other team take the risk on said pitchers.

              • Exactly. The old adage goes, “you can never have enough pitching.” And it’s true. Even if you think you have enough, there’s always another team who needs it and is willing to pay for it. This is why I’m not entirely married to the idea that to be successful, you have to draft and develop all your players. Nice if you can do it, but drafting pitching so you can use it to pay for exactly what you need later is good too.

            • What are the stats on the high school pitchers the Jays have drafted since AA took over and started spending more on scouts? There might be some generic league wide numbers about drafting highschool pitchers, but if the Jays scouts consistently draft guys high school pitchers who develop into good players, maybe you should trust the scouting staff a little more than just lumping them into one pot with every other staff in the league.

              • Read the most recent Dirk Hayhurst article about his draft years. That speaks volumes about the expert scouts out there.

        • Very interesting but only means so much without a point of reference. Could you provide the numbers for HS batters, etc. (and maybe the source?)

          • Every day I’m Googlin’

            “Eddy finds something similar when he looks at pitchers as well. Basically, the idea that college players are significantly better bets than high school players simply doesn’t seem to be true anymore, if it ever was. The flameout rate of high school players is much higher, but almost the entirety of the difference is made up of college guys who get to the big leagues but never amount to much. In terms of actually finding talent who produce significant value — and it’s not like +10 WAR is a crazy high bar — high school players have done nearly as well, despite the fact that (as Eddy notes) the three year head start they have should bias the results of active players towards the college guys. ”


  5. It’s Hollon by the way…..

  6. Wow. Parker (jays amateur scouting director) says Jays have a competitive advantage in developing pitchers. That might be to say they can’t develop position players for shit…

  7. Side not, Yasiel Puig is PornoRomance

  8. That catcher frames pitches better than JP.

  9. Extremely high risk picks. Could bring the most in trade value if that’s the tought process I dunno

  10. In the post draft chat Rode and Glassey mentioned Hollon as a having some makeup issues. What are the stories?

  11. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Jays punted on both those picks in order to get picks next year. Two guys that profile to be relievers is not exactly sexy.

  12. I wanted to see a big bat drafted. Pitchers are boring.
    Is anyone following the International market, is there a Cespedes or Soler type out there that AA can nab?

  13. Beckford’s delivery and arm action looks very much like Kyle Drabek’s. And Holton already has tendinitis? Can AA not pick a pitcher that’s a TJ surgery waiting happen?

  14. I cannot believe some of the comments a 17 yr old starter that commands fastball at 96 is a punted pick? I think we can wait the two or three years for a plus breaking pitch to develop. This is the type pick the Rays and Cards make . I’d have liked a bat closer to majors for sure but I like the risk possible reward with this pick. Stoets I think people need to chill its not like NHL or NBA its a crap shoot with a lot less sure things. Believe I read today somewhere that there has never been a first overall pick to make HOF and Griffey or Chipper will be first. I lot of bad picks by teams I guess over the years

    • The Cardinals have picked three HS pitchers in the first round since 1991, and the Rays three in their history. Smart teams do not use all their picks on high school pitchers.

      It’s all a crapshoot, but high school pitchers are more of a crapshoot than usual. They very rarely work out and that’s a fact.

      • Market inefficiencies, brah.

      • Of the three Rays pitchers, two were taken in 2011 and one of them is currently a top 100 prospect. Of the three Cards pitchers, one is a top 100 prospect right now and one is currently leading the NL in ERA. So they’ve picked a combined six high school pitchers and at least three of them look like good picks right now, with one (Shelby Miller) being a great pick.

        It’s just such a huge oversimplification to say high school pitchers are too risky or that you can’t take too many of them. With Sanchez, Syndergaard and Nicolino, it seems to be working out nicely under AA so far. We have every reason to trust their scouting department at this point.

      • “Smart teams do not use all their picks on high school pitchers.”

        All TWO of them! I understand the point you’re making but it’s not a systemic thing the Jays have done that has haunted them. As noted, their previous picks of HS pitchers worked out well.

  15. Is it just my perception of the team, or does it seem like the Jays very rarely have a prospect that works out. I know it’s a crapshoot and a lot of teams have busts and bad picks, but it just seems like we hear about all these guys in the system who are suppose to make an impact and just never do, more so than on other squads. Even if they get traded it seems they never really surface as every day, impact big league players.

  16. I think it’s time to ban the term “crapshoot”. offers the following as alternatives: iffy proposition, risk, risky business, shot in the dark, spin of the roulette wheel.

    Personally I suggest using “risky business”. It sounds vaguely erotic which is rather fitting when discussing prospect porn.

  17. Just for fun…Jays’ first picks dating back to 2000:

    2012 – DJ Davis
    2011 – Tyler Beede
    2010 – Deck McGuire
    2009 – Chad Jenkins
    2008 – David Cooper
    2007 – Kevin Ahrens
    2006 – Travis Snider
    2005 – Ricky Romero
    2004 – Zachary Jackson
    2003 – Aaron Hill
    2002 – Russ Adams
    2001 – Gabe Gross
    2000 – Miguel Negron

  18. High school pitchers? College Pitchers?

    What the fuck is the difference when they’ll all be traded for 35 year old shitballers?

  19. ROSENTHAL has a piece on teams who will be sellers at the deadline.

    He suspects that the Jays will keep the team together due to the fact that most player are under contract next year (except JJ), but also notes that no one has a no trade clause. So basically he doesn’t know.

    The one interesting thing he mentioned was that if Cill Lee was to become available that he thought the Jays would be interested. A move like this would have opinions on both sides, but the one thing that is certain is that Drew would likely be less crotchety on the DJF podcast if this was to come to be.

  20. Beer bash at Bickford’s tonight. HIs parents are totally out of town for the weekend.

  21. Is anyone else concerned about the lack of kids named “Hunter” in the Jays’ system?

  22. High schoolers are generally taught not to throw breaking stuff. As good developmental clinics will tell you, you can’t teach speed. Also, the mechanics on breaking stuff really can fuck with a developing HS arm. Fastball/change is what they should be throwing. Klaw should know that. HSers with a “feel” for breaking stuff are recipes for arm trouble down the road.

  23. Calling bullshit on the high 80′s curve. I can’t even name a guy who can throw his curve that hard in the big leagues. A slider maybe, but even AJ Burnett’s curve, which was considered “hard” never touched 85

  24. [...] Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans brings us a summary of the scouting reports on the Jays top draft picks Phil Bickford and Clinton Hollon. You [...]

  25. […] clues before the draft itself that this was a possibility. Keith Law, for example, reported that one possible contingency might involve Toronto selecting Bickford and then inviting him either to take a lower bonus than […]

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