Biddle making slow, steady climb through Phillies' system

Posted: July 20, 2012

By Daniel Carp

Daily News Staff Writer

Two summer ago, Jesse Biddle became somewhat of a poster child for the American dream. Now, what was once a great story off the field is becoming an even better story on it.

When the 18-year-old from Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia was selected by his hometown Phillies in the first round of the 2010 MLB draft, anyone who had ever put on a baseball glove was envious. Not only was the lefthanded pitcher a first-round draft selection straight out of high school, but the team he had grown up idolizing was the one that pulled the trigger. Fairy tales and Disney movies couldn't have cooked up something better.

Biddle quickly signed a contact with the Phillies, turning down the baseball scholarship he had accepted to play at the University of Oregon. Though his $1.16 million signing bonus served as some consolation, turning down a free college education to enter the depths of the minor leagues is never an easy choice. There is no such thing as a sure thing in baseball, even with a first-round draft pick.

"I knew that minor league baseball was a grind. I sat down with my parents before the draft and we talked about whether or not it would be worth it to make baseball into my life, where, at Oregon, it would have been part of my life," Biddle said.

"When I looked myself in the mirror and asked myself if I was cut out for it, I knew I was. If the Phillies took me in the first round, I was definitely going to go, and if any other team took me in the first round it was a very high possibility. But if the Phillies took me, there was no question; it was, 'Tell me where to sign and let's go.' "

Now, only 3 months shy of his 21st birthday, Biddle is taking the minors by storm, and loving every second of it. After spending his last season with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws and earning South Atlantic League postseason All-Star honors, Biddle was promoted to the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies' advanced Class A affiliate, for 2012. Biddle was again named an All-Star, this time in the Florida State League.

The southpaw is 5-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 18 starts this season, with 96 strikeouts in 93 innings, and his organization could not be more thrilled.

"As an organization, if you take a high school kid 2 1/2 years ago and we could draw up the scenario where we felt like Jesse Biddle would be today, I think we'd have signed up for exactly where he is right now," said Joe Jordan, Phillies director of player development. "The progress physically, the type of person he is and the type of worker, I think we were all signed up for this the day he was drafted."

Although Biddle is progressing quickly with his fastball command and the development of his offspeed pitches, he is not trying to rush the process. He still dreams of taking the mound for the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, but, for now, he just wants to win games, regardless of what uniform he's wearing.

"No matter what level I play at, I'm just trying to get better," Biddle said. "One of the things that's tough about playing minor league baseball is you're going to want to walk a fine line of being happy about where you are but not being complacent. I'm happy that I'm here in Clearwater, but I always have my eyes on a higher level.

"So I'm always working hard to get there, but I have a great time with my teammates, and, right now, I'm trying to win a championship in the Florida State League."

This display of maturity was not lost on his organization. Jordan said Biddle's work ethic and desire to improve will help him succeed - all the way up to the big leagues.

"I think he's a guy that embraces the whole process, and, for me, that is the best way to do it as a player," Jordan said. "Don't get caught up in wins, don't get caught up in numbers, just enjoy the process of growth and development.

"I just really think he enjoys it and it's probably about as good as we could have hoped. If he stays healthy he's got great things to look forward to."

Although there is no timetable for Biddle's promotion, he likely will be promoted to Reading by the start of next year, at the latest. For now, he has bits and pieces of the major leagues to keep him company in Clearwater.

A consummate student of the game, Biddle said he was awestruck in mid-July when he got to watch Roy Halladay in his rehab start for the Threshers.

"He was amazing. He had complete control and looked like he hadn't lost a step," Biddle said. "You don't get to see guys who have won two Cy Young awards pitch that often, let alone sit in the same dugout as him. To see guys like that, as a Phillies fan, it's awesome.

"Seeing guys like Chase Utley; Laynce Nix was with us, Jim Thome was here. I just like to take note of the way they go about their business, because the way they do it is the right way to do it."

As the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline approaches and speculation about lefthander Cole Hamels runs rampant, only the naïve would say tall, lefthanded starting pitchers are a dime a dozen in baseball. Luckily for the Phillies, whether or not they can re-sign Hamels, it looks as if they have another stud lefty waiting in the wings.

Contact Daniel Carp at carpd@phillynews.com.

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