By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It’s pretty rare in baseball that a majority of fans are familiar with a player from the day he is drafted out of high school. Usually, even when a player is selected high up, his progress isn’t closely followed until he is on the cusp of making the big leagues.
That has not been the case with Jesse Biddle.
But that’s what happens when a Philadelphia kid gets drafted in the first round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
A high-school star at Germantown Friends School, Biddle was the Phillies’ first-round pick in 2010 (27th overall), and he has had the attention of fans since signing. Now 21 years old, the lefthander is a member of the AA Reading Fightin Phils’ starting rotation and, as he has in his entire pro career to this point, getting better and better.
“I think I’m starting to make the improvements that I want to make,” Biddle told KYW Newsradio on Sunday, prior to Reading’s game with Trenton. “(I) went through probably a few outings in the middle of the season where I was just going through kind of what seems to be the natural minor league baseball progression of highs and lows. You’ve just got to keep working and work your way out of it.”
Biddle’s is just 3-8 for Reading, but, like Cliff Lee in 2012 for the Phillies, he has pitched into a lot of tough luck. The numbers past his record are quite impressive. In 93-1/3 innings, Biddle has allowed just 66 hits and his ERA is 3.09. He has 102 strikeouts and he has walked 46 batters.
His work this season has impressed his pitching coach in Reading.
“His consistency’s a tremendous improvement,” Dave Lundquist tells KYW Newsradio. “Toward the end of last year, (he) added a two-seam fastball, added a slider to his repertoire of pitches, and he’s taken to them pretty good, using them in games situationally. (He’ll) end up as a two-seam, four-seam, curve, slider, change guy with a full repertoire of quality pitches.”
In 2010, Biddle started his pro career in the Gulf Coast League before earning a quick promotion to short-season, class-A Williamsport.
Since then, his progress has been deliberate: a full season at Class-A Lakewood in 2011, a full season at High Class-A Clearwater in 2012, and all of 2013 so far with Reading.
This season, Biddle was named an Eastern League All-Star and he has been selected to take part in the annual Futures Game, which is this Sunday in New York.
Despite the success and accolades he has already garnered, he says he is always focused on getting better.
“I’d say right now the biggest thing they tell me is that I’ve got to be able to throw my change-up for strikes and just be aggressive with that pitch,” Biddle says. “That’s kind of the difference maker. A lot of the good outings I’ve had, it’s been because I can throw my change-up for strikes. It helps me keep the hitters off balance and makes all my other pitches better.”
“Right now that’s probably the biggest thing I’m focusing on. But, overall, just my game in terms of what I’m trying to get better at, it’s really everything. Every day I’m working on a lot of different stuff. You’re always going to kind of key on one thing, but for the most part, every time I throw a bullpen I’m working on every single thing I can.”
Needless to say, the attention of being a local kid in the organization of his hometown team hasn’t bothered Biddle at all — and actually, he says, the ride to this point for him has been unbelievable.
“I think that’s probably the best way to describe it,” Biddle says. “I’d say that’s the most common question I get: how does it feel to play your hometown team? And I’m still looking for an answer. It’s probably the one question I don’t have an answer to, honestly. I’m still trying to find the words to describe the way I feel every day I get to put on that Phillies uniform and kind of just play for my hometown team, be close to home, have my friends and family supporting me every game I pitch.
“I’m so lucky, I’ve had such an unbelievable journey so far, and I’m just going to keep riding that until I get there.”
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.