LAKEWOOD — Jesse Biddle says without hesitation he’s living his dream.
The Philadelphia Phillies — Biddle’s hometown team — drafted the left-handed pitcher right out of high school in the first round of the 2010 Major League player draft.
Now, Baseball America has named the 21-year-old Biddle the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect.
The 6-foot-4 Biddle is expected to pitch the upcoming season for the double-A Reading Fighting Phils.
“I’m definitely more comfortable with being a professional,” Biddle said Wednesday night. “But I still kind of get the feeling I’m dreaming when I see people wearing Phillies hats, and I’m like, ‘I have a chance to play for that team.’ That is something I’ll never wake up from.”
As current Phillies such as ace pitcher Roy Halladay, 35, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 34, grow older, Philadelphia fans turn their attention more and more to the team’s future players.
Biddle, members of the Phillies front office, manager Charlie Manuel and utility player Kevin Frandsen came here Wednesday for the Phillies’ Winter Tour stop at Woodlake Country Club. As spring training nears, the event was designed to promote both the Phillies and the team’s single-A affiliate, the Lakewood BlueClaws. The Phillies’ pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 12. Phillies representatives schmoozed with fans and auctioned off team memorabilia Wednesday night.
Biddle is well-known in Lakewood. He pitched for the BlueClaws in 2010, finishing with a 7-8 record and 128 strikeouts in 133 innings.
Biddle emerged as one of the team’s top prospect last season, pitching for the Phillies’ single-A Clearwater team. He was 10-6 with 151 strikeouts in a little more than 142 innings.
Biddle started slowly last season with a 5.71 ERA in April. But from May on he was 10-4 with a 2.99 ERA.
Biddle said he’s had to adjust to life as a professional, to throwing every day and pitching 130 innings in a season rather than 40 or 50 he threw in high school.
“Things clicked (last season),” he said. “It wasn’t a moment where I said ‘I’m good now.’ I just kept putting the work in. I started pitching better and better and it translated into having a solid year.”
Biddle added a slider last season to go with his curveball, changeup and fastball that measures between 91 and 94 mph on the radar gun.
“Everything is going in the right direction for Jesse,” Joe Jordan, the Phillies’ director of player development, said. “He was as strong in July and August last season as he was all year. For a kid his age in the Florida heat, that’s impressive. No one (in the organization) had a better year developmentally than he did.”
But Biddle knows better than anyone that Baseball America naming a player a top prospect does not guarantee a spot in the major leagues. Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown was named one of baseball’s top-50 prospects in 2011 and he has yet to crack a major-league lineup.
“As far as I can tell, there’s not any type of magic that happens (from being named a top prospect),” Biddle said. “It’s a very nice honor. I’m not going to shoot Baseball America down, but it’s hard for me imagining ranking guys I play with. We have a lot of good players in our organization and that’s something fans should be excited about.”
The Internet has made it easier for fans of major-league teams to follow their favorite minor-league prospects. Biddle’s talent isn’t the only thing that makes him special. He grew up and still lives in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia. Biddle graduated from Germantown Friends School.
It’s no surprise the Phillies pick him to meet and greet fans at winter caravans. He still lives in the city and understands the fans’ passion for the team. Biddle is also at ease speaking with reporters and meeting fans.
Biddle’s biggest challenge is staying in the moment and not feeling like he needs to make the major-league roster yesterday.
“I’ve been to the (Phillies) games,” he said. “I’ve seen everything. I want to be there. But I have to be satisfied with where I’m at but pushing to be further. That’s a thin line I’m trying to walk.”
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