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By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — There’s a lot to like about Jesse Biddle. He’s an articulate, intelligent homegrown talent who always demands the best of himself, and wants to be playing for the hometown Phillies yesterday.
Phillies fans will love him when he does arrive at Citizens Bank Park. In the meantime, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound lefthander who was selected 27th overall by the Phils in the 2010 draft appears to be streamlining to the majors. Biddle, 21, received a nice, unexpected accolade recently, named Monday as the Phillies’ top prospect, according to Baseball America.
Last season for Class A Clearwater, Biddle went 10-6 with a 3.22 ERA, striking out 151 in 142 2/3 innings. In his three-year career, Biddle is 21-15 with a 3.21 ERA. In 319 1/3 innings, he allowed 273 hits and struck out 325.
“It means a lot being the No. 1 prospect for the organization that I play for and respect, but honestly, it’s not that important to me being the No. 1 prospect,” said Biddle, who went to Germantown Friends and still lives with his parents in Mount Airy. “Reaching the bigs is the priority—none of that has to do with my goal of being a big league pitcher. Being named No. 1 is a nice byproduct of having a good season by the numbers. The goal is to break through a new level every year. I understand the Phillies are in no need of starting pitching right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want get there. I always expect myself to be 10 steps ahead of where I am.”
Biddle added a slider to his repertoire last spring. He took it slow, throwing it once every inning. He came away most pleased with his curveball, which he says has come a long way. He threw the curve more consistently for strikes and his fastball had more life. The biggest adjustment, Biddle feels, is with his change-up. He was inconsistent with it, missing down in the strike zone. He wants better command of the pitch.
“Everything worked out last year; I learned a lot about baseball, the game, and myself as a pitcher but what I learned most is how to pace myself over a season,” Biddle said. “I didn’t see the kind of improvements I wanted to see last year, and I know that sounds like I’m hard on myself. But if I’m not going to hard on myself, who is? That’s the way I am, it’s the way I’m wired, I suppose you can say.”
What Biddle continues to refine is his mental approach. He’s a perfectionist, though he realizes perfectionists don’t last too long in the majors without a little dose of selective amnesia. The mental side is the most important aspect of his development that he’s focused on; that ability to move on after a bad pitch. Biddle has been able to block out during an inning. It’s when he gets back into the dugout when he kicks himself.
“I think that will come in time, it’s not a real issue,” Biddle said. “There needs to be a balance and I have to learn to turn my brain off. Coaches tell me I put too much pressure on myself. I don’t know if I ever want to change that, but I do have to move forward from a bad pitch and not go back. It’s what separates a big league pitcher from a minor league pitcher, that ability of learning to let go.”
Being the No. 1 prospect in a major league organization is a great place to be, but it also comes with a leery stigma, the risk of being a trade target. Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro has shown a penchant for trading young talent for veterans. Though trading Biddle could be something the Phillies may have to watch out for. He’s a great story, the hometown kid pitching for his hometown team, plus he possesses a beaming, illuminating personality, along with tons of talent.
Biddle is someone Phillies’ fans will—and should—cherish when, not if, he reaches the majors.
“I do fear being traded, it’s one of those things in the back of my mind, I see guys they’ve traded and I realize it does happen and it’s one of those things that what can I do to stop it?” Biddle asked. “All I can control is what I have to do on the field. I don’t want to be traded by any means. I’m playing for the team I grew up rooting for, the team I love, and this is an opportunity to make a dream become a reality. I want it and it’s all I’m pushing for right now.
“The Phillies told me they’ll see where they want to send me depending upon what happens this spring. I’m realistic, I know there’s no chance breaking into big league camp out of spring training, and the chances are very small of even being a September call-up. I have to pitch well for whatever team they put me on. Remember, I haven’t pitched to a Class AA hitter in my life. I’m willing to go through the process and see the minor leagues as a learning opportunity in becoming a better pitcher every day. The big leagues are about numbers. I want to be there now, pitching. But I have to release control of the situation and let the Phillies worry about who they call up and I’ll concern myself about getting better. It’s very hard to do, because I’m not wired that way and I want to be there now. I need to focus on the things beneficial to me in the end and in the long run.”
Biddle is filling his time locally coaching kids at a local baseball facility in Ambler, working out always with the thought that one day he’ll be wearing the cherry pinstripes on the mound at Citizens Bank Park.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.