It will take some time before we know if the Brewers’ return from the Will Smith trade to San Francisco will produce anything worthwhile. Of course, we don’t even know if Will Smith will produce anything worthwhile for the Giants, either. Smith missed last season with injury, and Andrew Susac was unable to compete for the Brewers’ starting catching position due to injuries of his own.
The major prospect in that deal, Phil Bickford, missed almost all of his 2017 season, partially due to being silly. With a good chance at a major league career in his future, he got himself suspended for 50 games during his age 21-22 season for using an illegal substance. The former (twice!) first round pick in the amateur draft has put himself into the position of forfeiting his chance at a professional baseball career in order to have a little temporary fun. (Editor’s note: It is worth mentioning that the substance for which Bickford has previously tested positive for, marijuana, is legal for recreational purposes in his home state of California.) Bickford also suffered a broken hand while pitching in extended spring training down in Maryvale while on suspension, costing him even more development time in 2017.
Bickford did get on the mound for the Brewers’ Arizona rookie team late in the summer. He worked 17 innings and allowing 10 hits but walking 10. He hit two as well. He struck out 16. But this is a lost season of development for Phil; his margin for error in his career has shrunk. He spent the 2016 season split between low-A ball and high-A ball with the Brewers and Giants, pitching a total of 120.0 innings between three affiliates with a 2.93 ERA. It’s likely that he’ll have to head back to high-A with Carolina in 2018, which will be his age-22 season.
In a 2016 review of Bickford’s path to Milwaukee, Fangraph’s Eric Longenhagen provided an excellent picture of the enigma that is Phil Bickford. Sudden spikes in velocity. Sudden drops in velocity. Excellent command of two pitches in high school and at Cal State Fullerton, sandwiched around Bickford not signing with the Toronto Blue Jays as the #10 overall pick. Then, a transfer to the College of Southern Nevada to become draft eligible, and a first round selection by the Giants.
Bickford is 6’4” and 200 pounds. He has the build and tools to become a major league pitcher. Whether he has the internal constitution to get there remains to be seen. Brew Crew Ball voted Phil into the #9 prospect spot last season. It seems unlikely that he will be voted as highly again, but little has been learned about what the Brewers might have in him.
Phil Bickford could become a viable candidate for a spot in the Brewers’ rotation in a few years. Or he could never even reach the AAA level. The big righty has a great opportunity in front of him. It will be interesting to see if he can grab that chance.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference