The Blue Jays selected right-hander Phil Bickford with the 10th overall pick Thursday. The 17-year-old right-hander from Oaks Christian High School in California is six-foot-four, 200 pounds, and can throw a 96 m.p.h. fastball that Toronto's director of amateur scouting, Brian Parker, says is polished.
Bickford led his high school club to its division championship, where he struck out 18 batters in the final, including 11 in a row. Bickford finished his senior season with a 1.72 earned-runs average, allowing 44 hits and recording 159 strikeouts in 99.1 innings.
"We're very excited about this kid," Parker said on a conference call. "He's got one of the best fastballs in the draft. He's an athletic kid and we're all very excited to get this guy going."
Blue Jays scouts seem to have an eye for rangy pitchers of late. Toronto has drafted 11 pitchers measuring six-foot-four or taller since 2007.
"I think it's something we look for," Parker said. "I think athleticism is something we focus on with pitchers, especially high school kids. Those are the types of frames and athletes we're looking to get into our rotation."
Parker said that Bickford's fastball is good enough for professional baseball right now, but the other pitches in his repertoire need development.
"We think the secondary stuff is developing," Parker said. "We think the changeup is the better (secondary) pitch right now, but we think he has the chance to have a pretty good breaking ball."
Bickford has a commitment to NCAA Division I school Cal State Fullerton, but Parker doesn't see that as an obstacle to getting him signed.
"Almost every high school kid out there has a college commitment," he said. "That's kind of the territory that we have when we take high school guys."
It hasn't always worked out for Toronto, however.
The Blue Jays drafted six-foot-four right-hander Tyler Beede out of high school in the first round of the 2011 draft even though Beede had a commitment to Vanderbilt University. The Blue Jays and Beede couldn't bridge a sizable gulf in negotiations over a signing bonus, and Beede elected not to sign.