Phil Bickford was one of the acquisitions GM David Stearns made back in 2016 when he traded Milwaukee Brewers left-handed reliever Will Smith to San Francisco in exchange for Bickford and Andrew Susac.
Bickford burst onto the scene in 2016, debuting on the Brewers MLB Pipeline prospect watch as the Brewers fifth overall prospect. His graded out as a 55 overall on MLB’s 20-80 scale with a 65 fastball and a 55 slider. His fastball was hitting 98 MPH regularly with a 90 MPH two-seamer with some nasty sink to it.
During that 2016 season, he was 7-7 with a 2.93 ERA in 23 appearances, 22 of those games were starts. Batters hit in the low .200s against Bickford and he struck out 135 of them in 120 innings with 42 walks allowed.
The future looked bright for Bickford up until the 2017 season when the struggles began. In December, Bickford was popped with a 50-game suspension for his second failed drug test. According to Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel, his first failed came before he was drafted by the Giants in 2015.
During the 2017 season, he went from the Milwaukee Brewers fifth overall prospect in 2016 to the 24th prospect. Upon working his way back from his 50-game suspension, Bickford broke his hand and only saw action in six games. In those six games, he had a 1-0 record, with five starts and a 2.12 ERA in 17 innings.
The struggles off the field shifted to on the field struggles in 2018. Bickford, who is now pitching for the Carolina Mudcats, made his season debut May 31st and has pitched in 15 games this season with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.667 WHIP in 24.0 innings. His H/9 is 10.1 and his BB/9 is 4.9, which is extremely high. The only silver lining for him this season is his 11.3 K/9. As projected by many scouts around baseball, the Brewers have shifted Bickford from a starter to a reliever.
By becoming a reliever, Bickford can focus strictly on that fastball-slider combination and could be a way to streamline his path to the big leagues. Bickford is still young and has a power four seam fastball. That electric arm is good enough to play in any bullpen. It’s just a matter of finding his stride once again.
The Milwaukee Brewers still have high hopes for Bickford who just turned 23 in July. Has the stuff to be a significant contributor over the next couple of seasons if he is able to put his drug problems behind him and just focus on baseball.