Blue Jays Go 2-for-3 At Deadline, Lose First-Rounder Bickford

The draft signing deadline didn’t provide much drama today, though the Blue Jays can take credit for what little there was.

Toronto failed to sign 10th overall pick Phil Bickford, the only first-rounder selection in this year’s draft who didn’t turn pro, but did make two big splashes 10 minutes before the 5 p.m. ET deadline. The Jays signed 11th-rounder Jake Brentz for $700,000 and 30th-rounder Rowdy Tellez for $850,000.

Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos said yesterday that he didn’t expect to sign Bickford. He didn’t elaborate much beyond saying that the impasse wasn’t financial. Other sources involved with the negotiations didn’t intimate that any physical issue was involved, and it remains unclear as to why exactly the negotiations broke down.

A righthander from Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village, Calif., Bickford’s stock rose along with the quality of his fastball this spring. After throwing 88-92 mph last summer, he worked from 90-96 mph as a high school senior while exhibiting tremendous life on the pitch and the ability to command it to both sides of the plate. He wowed scouts in his final start of the season, striking out 18 in seven innings (including the final 11 hitters he faced) five days before the draft.

Bickford reportedly had a $4.25 million price tag before the draft, significantly more than the $2,921,400 assigned value for the No. 10 selection. The Blue Jays did wind up saving $423,520 against their bonus pool and could have paid him $3,664,830 without forfeiting a future first-round pick. One source said the team didn’t make any further attempts to sign Bickford today.

With Bickford headed to Cal State Fullerton, Toronto will get the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft as compensation. The Jays also failed to sign a first-round high school righthander two years ago, when they lost Tyler Beede to Vanderbilt. Beede projects as an early first-rounder in the 2014 draft.

While Toronto lost out on Bickford, it did land a pair of second- or third-round talents in Tellez and Brentz. Tellez ranked 59th and Brentz ranked 80th on  the BA 500. Tellez’s $850,000 bonus set a new standard for a post-10th-round pick since new draft rules came into play last year. The previous record was held by Steven Farinaro, a California high school righthander who signed for $750,000 as a Cardinals 11th-rounder in June.

A first baseman from Elk Grove (Calif.) High, Tellez had the best lefthanded power in the 2013 draft. He beat No. 5 overall pick Clint Frazier in the home run derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase last summer. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Tellez is also a disciplined hitter and moves well at first base. He had committed to Southern California.

Brentz nearly matched Farinaro’s previous mark as well. He was mostly a right fielder in his first three years at Parkway South High in Manchester, Mo., but that changed when the lefthander’s fastball hit 96 mph at the World Wood Bat Association World Championships last fall.

Brentz became a full-time pitcher and spent the spring pitching in a Perfect Game league in Iowa rather than for Parkway South. An athletic 6-foot-2, 195-pounder with an easy delivery, he also has shown feel for a changeup. He originally committed to Missouri but planned to attend Jefferson (Mo.) CC if he hadn’t signed.

The Blue Jays’ signings and non-signing dominated the deadline-day news. Only one of the nine unsigned players in the first 10 rounds came to terms, with Lee (Tenn.) righthander Myles Smith signing for $400,000 as a Red Sox fourth-rounder.

Besides Tellez and Brentz, the biggest signings after the 10th round were Tennessee high school righthander Trevor Clifton ($375,000 from the Cubs in the 12th round) and Colorado prep lefty Denton Keys ($350,000 from the Phillies in the 11th).