Biddle, Franco hope to be part of Phils’ next core

Biddle, Franco hope to be part of Phils’ next core

July 14, 2013, 5:30 pm
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NEW YORK – There probably isn’t a Phillies prospect more keenly aware of the state of the parent club than Jesse Biddle.

The 21-year-old left-hander grew up in Philadelphia and was a fan of the team when the nucleus of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels began winning division championships and ultimately the World Series in 2008.

It’s no secret that the Phils are getting older at the big-league level. The club missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006 last year and is fighting to stay on the periphery of contention this season. Over the next few seasons, the current nucleus will move on – the transition could start in the coming months – and a new nucleus will take over.

Biddle is expected to be part of the next wave.

So is 20-year-old third baseman Maikel Franco.

The two young prospects are teammates at Double A Reading. On Sunday, however, they found themselves in opposite dugouts at the Futures Games, the kickoff event of All-Star festivities, at Citi Field.

Someday the two players might be back in New York together, taking on the Mets, as part of what the Phillies hope is the franchise’s next championship-caliber group of players.

“I believe we could be that group,” said Biddle, the Phillies’ first-round draft pick out of Germantown Friends in 2010. “I see star potential in Franco. We have a lot of young guys who have the potential to be very good.”

Biddle mentioned third baseman Cody Asche, catchers Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, pitchers Adam Morgan and Ethan Martin and outfielders Kelly Dugan and Aaron Altherr.

“And [Jonathan] Pettibone is already there,” Biddle said.

“I think we could be a pretty good group,” he continued. “I’m never going to compare us to Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. But we could be our own little version of that.”

Franco is the hottest name in the Phillies’ system right now, and rightfully so. He is hitting .321 with 26 doubles and 21 homers in 343 at-bats between advanced Single A and Double A this season.

A couple of months ago, Biddle was the hottest name in the Phillies’ system. Coming off a winter in which he was named as the organization’s No. 1 prospect by Baseball America, he made the jump from Single A Clearwater to Double A Reading and had a spectacular first month of the season. The highlight: Seven innings of one-hit ball with 16 strikeouts in an April 22 win over New Hampshire.

Biddle finished April at 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA in five starts. He held opposing hitters to a .114 batting average.

Biddle has leveled off since that scorching first month. In 13 starts since April, he is 1-8 with a 3.99 ERA. He has 67 strikeouts and 36 walks in 67 2/3 innings.

Phillies officials aren’t fretting Biddle’s win-loss record. He’s pitching for a team with a losing record and hasn’t received good run support. The important thing: He’s gaining experience and getting better.

Biddle has learned what Hamels learned in 2009. Tough times can be a great teacher.

“Unfortunately, I’m a believer in that,” Biddle said with a laugh. “There are a lot of good lessons in that.

“Having a good month is awesome, but you need to have more than one good month to make it to the big leagues. While it was really cool to have a good month, get publicity and recognition, 16 strikeouts, whatever – it’s a long season and I’ve learned that.

“While there have been some failures, there have been some successes, too. If anything I’ve proven that I can handle Double A and I can pitch at this level. I’m just trying to get better every day and the biggest thing is consistency.”

There is no better testament to Biddle’s potential and bright future than his selection to Sunday’s Futures Game. The 6-foot-4 inch pitcher was part of Team USA. In fact, he was the winning pitcher in his team’s 4-2 victory over the World team. Biddle faced five batters, did not allow a hit or a run, walked one and struck out one. The strikeout came when he got Franco, his Reading teammate and the World team’s designated hitter, on a good-looking curveball in the fourth inning.

“I’m so honored to represent the Phillies and my city in this game,” Biddle said. “Really, I’m speechless.

“Every time I pitch, I try to represent Philadelphia well. To do it on a national stage is huge.”

Franco went 0 for 2 in the game. He flied out to center in his other at-bat.

If all goes according to plan, Biddle will pitch at Triple A next season and possibly be knocking on the door at Citizens Bank Park by September 2014. It’s heady stuff for a Philadelphia kid, but Biddle knows his foot has to firmly hit every rung on the ladder on the way up.

“It’s hard not to think about that,” Biddle said. “The closer you get, the easier it is to think about, the more tangible it becomes. It’s like I can reach out and grab it.

“But I’m very happy playing in Reading. I don’t want to play in Reading forever. But I’m very happy there now. I’m very happy with the organization and direction they’re giving me. I’m having a great time there and trying to learn to pitch.”