Phil Bickford was nice enough to chat for a bit after one of many minor league spring training games played during the month of March in the Arizona sun. The interview took place just a day after the Giants' most recent first-round pick pitched beautifully while piggy-backing Tyler Beede at the Chicago Cubs minor league facility against the Cubbies' Double-A players. He utilized a consistent 93-94 mph four-seam fastball, low-90s two-seam, and various sliders and changeups to strike out four in three scoreless innings (video included below). Before he hopped on a plane for Augusta, Ga. a few days later, Bickford talked with Giant Potential about his first professional season, turning down the Blue Jays, and switching roles to closing in the Cape Cod League.
GP: You were throwing fastballs in the 93-94 range today, as well as some offspeed stuff like a slider and a changeup. How did those pitches feel today?
"Good, but I remember a particular at-bat where I threw a changeup but it wasn’t down. When you’re facing hitters with good approaches in a two-strike count, you just have to get it down. So that was on me. But it did feel good though. I threw another good one and I just have to learn to keep that one down."
GP: One left-hander Paula made some solid contact against you in his first at-bat. How did you approach him the second time around?
"I just wasn’t afraid to come at him. You can’t be afraid to throw strikes. It helps when it’s a spot, but you can’t be afraid to get ahead in the count. You can learn from their tendencies, like what their approach is what they’re trying to do, but I feel like my main focus, no matter who I’m facing, is just to not be afraid to throw strikes."
GP: Tell me about your experience playing pro ball after being drafted last year.
"It was a great experience. I got kind of lucky because they told me right away what the map was going to be. They said I was going to be in the AZL for the rest of the season. It was all about getting into the five-day routine and being a starter. It was a little interesting only throwing two innings in a starting role but then about halfway through [the season] they bumped it up to three innings. So that was pretty cool. But it was cool getting to know all the teammates and coaches because this is a special organization. We really are a band of brothers. It was a fun season."
GP: You were drafted 10th overall in 2013 by the Blue Jays out of high school. What went into your decision to go to CSU-Fullerton, and eventually College of Southern Nevada instead?
"It was one of the best moments of my life, obviously, getting picked up. It was an amazing feeling, especially out of high school. When it all started coming down to the business, it just didn’t work out. We were confident that if I went to college and took that approach, I could only get better. So that was the approach and it all worked out."
GP: It sure did. You gained two years of college experience and were still drafted in the first round two years later. Can you describe the move from Fullerton to Nevada?
"I was fortunate enough to play for the Y-D Red Sox in the Cape [Cod League] and I was on a 45-pitch limit for each game. It was actually kind of funny because I still started my very first appearance there and it only ended up being three innings so the coach came up to me and said, “Hey, since you’re on this pitch count, do you just want to be our closer?” And I was like, “Yeah!” So I just got used to that role. And it’s honestly the same idea as starting. You just know that you’re going to be throwing less innings and so it’s still about throwing strikes. But the Cape went really well. There was just some people saying that I need to go to a [junior college]. I had my mind set on three years at [CSU] Fullerton and helping contribute to them getting to the College World Series. Who would’ve thought it would happen? But I had my mind set on that but towards the end, [the junior college idea] got reinforced a bit and my heart slowly turned to that approach."
GP: So in the long run, you feel like that was the best move for you?
B: 100 percent.
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