Tough '13 has Biddle eager to prove himself again

Tough '13 has Biddle eager to prove himself again

Biddle explains his maturation process as a pitcher

January 17, 2014, 10:00 am
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Jesse Biddle struggled with whooping cough, plantar fasciitis and control issues at various times last season. (USA Today Images)

Jesse Biddle dominated the Eastern League last April. He had a 1.74 ERA in five starts. He held his opponents to a .114 batting average. He struck out 40 batters in 31 innings. In back-to-back starts to end the month he went 13 innings, allowed two hits and struck out 26.

He was on his way.

If you don't remember the reaction locally, you can probably imagine it.

Should the Phillies bring Biddle up now? If not, is he a potential September callup? Just how high is his ceiling?

It didn't last long.

Over the ensuing weeks, Biddle developed whooping cough and plantar fasciitis, struggled with control issues and on four occasions over the next three months failed to pitch into the third inning.

At 22, it was the perfect lesson about not just baseball, but life.

"Huge for my growth, maturity went through the roof," Biddle said Thursday of his tumultuous 2013. "I was really, really immature in some ways handling my illnesses, handling some of the adversity I was facing. And handling my failures, because let's be honest, there were a lot of times I failed last year, and I didn't handle it the right way.

"I could probably stand here and tell you a million different reasons why I sucked at certain points last year. Because I did. It was rough, really rough. I was at the lowest of the lows I've had in my baseball career -- going out there for two-thirds of an inning. My high school coach came to see me pitch in Binghamton (July 23) and I threw two-thirds of an inning.

"So I could tell you a million different reasons. I could say it was my illness, I could say it was mechanics, I could say its mental ... the fact is it's everything.

"I think there are some things I really want to grow up on and improve, and thats why I'm here."

Here was the Phillies' clubhouse, where Biddle, Maikel Franco (see story) and six other prospects spoke to the media as part of a week-long Phillies prospect education program.

Biddle is fully recovered from both ailments and eager to impress at his first big-league camp, which he'll attend as a non-roster invitee.

This is an important year for the 2010 first-rounder out of the Germantown Friends School. He's slated to start the year at either Double A or Triple A, and he could easily see time in the majors if he pitches well and the Phillies have an injury to their ultra thin starting rotation.

"I let the pressure get to me [last season]," Biddle said. "I let certain things affect me that I shouldn't. And at the end of the day, I'm so excited for 2014 I couldn't tell you, because I just want to show everybody I put the work in, I put the time in. This is really my passion in life.

"But if I have that low again, if I go through a period again where I don't pitch very well, my goal is to see if I handle it. Obviously, everybody's going to go through trouble, so I'm just going to see how I handle it and go from there."

Had Biddle breezed through Double A last season he likely never would have learned those lessons. And when eventual struggles occurred at Triple A or in the majors, it would have been a completely new experience for him. So in many ways, what he went through in 2013 was a positive, since wins and losses at Double A mean very little in the grand scheme of things and the big-league club was going nowhere.

Now he gets to take his refined mental approach to Clearwater, where he'll hope to pitch well in whatever opportunity he gets, and maybe pick up a few tricks along the way.

One priority: Learn Cole Hamels' changeup.

"I'm definitely gonna have to ask about Cole Hamels' changeup," Biddle said. "He's got an amazing changeup, one that I've admired for a long time, and I know if mine could be a little bit more like that it would definitely help me.

"Whether I pitch well or whether I pitch badly, I'm gonna learn a lot [in spring training], I'm gonna ask a lot of questions. There's a whole lot of experience on the roster -- I mean, the head coach is a Hall of Famer, you don't get opportunities like that."

At some point down the road, Biddle will get an even better opportunity. So long as he stays the course, avoids injury and continues to strike out more than a batter per inning.

"To be able to pitch [in Philadelphia] would be incredible," he said. "That's what my mind's been set on since my mind could be set on anything. It's a matter of staying of focused, and I have a goal, and that's to be able to sit in this locker room every day and answer questions."