Biddle Would Fulfill Dream By Pitching For Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla.—When the Phillies selected Jesse Biddle with the 27th pick in the 2010 draft, that moment marked the beginning of a memorable and exhaustive week in which the lefthander graduated from high school and started his professional baseball career.

Unlike many first-rounders, Biddle practically asked "Where do I sign?" after hearing commissioner Bud Selig announce his name on draft day.

Though he had committed to play for the fledgling Oregon program, Biddle had incentive to sign that extended beyond the $1.16 million bonus he received. The 6-foot-4 southpaw was born and raised in Philadelphia.

Biddle has photos of himself at old Veterans Stadium when he was 2 years old. He recalls watching lefthander Randy Wolf pitch against the Cardinals when he was 7, and one of his all-time favorite moments is when he sat behind home plate with his father and watched the Phillies defeat the Rays in Game Five of the 2008 World Series to capture their first championship since 1980.

"The Phillies have always been a significant part of my life, so once they drafted me, I was excited about getting my career started," said Biddle, who graduated from Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia. "I watched the draft at my uncle's house—he is one of the most loyal Phillies fans I know—and when I heard my name called, it was just one step towards fulfilling a dream.

"It's emotional and exciting to be drafted by the team you have followed growing up, and it's humbling to be selected in the first round, but everyone here (in the minor leagues) has the same objective of reaching the majors.

"So once the excitement subsided, it was suddenly time to get focused and show (the Phillies) that they made the right choice."

Valuable Experience

Biddle signed almost immediately after the draft and made his way the to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he went 3-1, 4.32 in nine starts. He earned a late promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League, where he notched a 2.61 ERA in three starts for Williamsport.

"Signing right away and getting the experience that first year . . . was a good decision because I was able to get to know coaches and teammates, and get accustomed to the routine of professional baseball," Biddle said. "Because of that, I felt comfortable during my first spring training, and I was assigned to (low Class A) Lakewood instead of remaining in extended spring training."

Biddle spent the entire 2011 season in the South Atlantic League, going 7-8, 2.98 and leading all league starters with a .219 opponent average. He struck out 124 in 133 innings and even struck out the side in the SAL all-star game.

The 21-year-old Biddle has an array pitches that could become plus offerings in time, including a four-seam fastball that touches 94 mph but typically ranges from 88-92, a changeup and a 12-to-6 curveball that features steep break. He'll occasionally mix in a slider and two-seamer, but what the Phillies especially like about Biddle is his maturity and his work ethic.

"Until you get (a player) into your system, nothing is certain," said Joe Jordan, the first-year director of player development for the Phillies who was scouting director for the Orioles when he first saw Biddle. "Jesse is an intelligent kid who lives and breathes pitching. He's a student of the game who has the intangibles and the stuff to be a successful major league starting pitcher."

Maturity To Move On

At Lakewood last year, Biddle went 0-4, 5.91 over his first five starts. He worked with pitching coach Steve Schrenk to improve his delivery and his approach, rebounding to earn all-star status and receive a promotion to high Class A Clearwater for 2012.

"No matter how high the expectations are from the Phillies and from the fans, they don't nearly match the expectations I have for myself," Biddle said. "Early on at Lakewood, I was overthrowing and my delivery was not where it needed to be. Once I improved that, and focused on pitching instead of just throwing, the results were better."

Biddle's results with Clearwater this season confirm this as fact. Through 21 starts, he went 7-4, 3.23 with 116 strikeouts against 45 walks and 108 hits allowed in 111 innings. He ranked fifth in the Florida State League ERA race and second in whiffs.

Chris Truby knows Biddle well, having managed Philadelphia's top pitching prospect at Williamsport, Lakewood and now Clearwater. Biddle's ability to recover from a tough outing is impressive, Truby said.

"Having struggles is part of the development process. It's how you respond to them that plays a role in determining how successful you will be," Truby said. "Jesse's maturity, competitiveness and on-the-mound presence separates him, along with his plus pitches."

Biddle is not only a Phillies prospect, but he also is a dedicated fan who closely monitors the parent team's progress. Now that Philadelphia has Cole Hamels—himself a Phillies first-rounder in 2002—under contract through 2018, Biddle may one day join his fellow lefthander in the big league rotation.

"When you're drafted, it's natural that you want to make it to the majors with that team," Biddle said. "Being from Philadelphia and going to Phillies games for as long as I can remember, it would be special to stand on the mound at Citizens Bank Park.

"I have a lot more work to do before that happens, though. There are new challenges at each level of the minors, and it's important to remain focused on being successful at your current level before envisioning what you will do at the next one."

Jeff Louderback is freelance writer based in Clearwater, Fla.