Hailing from Germantown Friends High School, the Philadelphia Phillies had the privilege of seeing local-product Jesse Biddle on a weekly basis, heavily scouting each one of his starts in the spring of 2010. Therefore, it came as no surprise when they made the left-hander their first-round selection (27th overall) in June. Despite his perceived strong commitment to the University of Oregon, the Phillies were able to lure him away with a $1.16 singing bonus.
Regarded as a highly projectable but unpolished high school senior, Biddle’s mediocre professional debut between the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Short-Season New York-Penn League was somewhat expected. He ultimately made 12 starts in his age-18 season, registering a 3.92 ERA, 10.3 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9 in 43.2 innings.
Assigned to Low-A Lakewood for his full-season debut in 2011, Biddle excelled as the third-youngest pitcher in the South Atlantic League—but that’s not to say he didn’t endure his share of struggles. Overall, the 19-year-old was 7-8 with a 2.98 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.4 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 133 innings spanning 24 starts.
Throughout the season, he struggled with the command of both his fastball and secondary pitches, but nothing out of the ordinary for a player his age. At the same time, Biddle also made strides in improving the overall quality of his arsenal, prioritizing a sharp curveball over his slider while developing a changeup.
The Phillies handed Biddle a well-deserved promotion to open the 2012 season, assigning the 20-year-old to High-A Clearwater in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Once again he responded favorably, emerging as one of the league’s top pitching prospects in what was a breakout campaign.
The left-hander finished the season with a 10-6 record, 3.22 ERA, 9.5 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 over 26 starts, and paced the Florida State League with 151 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. He also posted the third-best ERA among all qualified pitchers.
Biddle’s success as a younger player in an advanced league can be attributed to his vastly improved command and confidence in his full arsenal. For the first time in his career, Biddle consistently located his fastball throughout the strike zone, which, in turn, made his secondary offerings all the more effective.
With a tendency to spike his curveball in previous seasons, he demonstrated the ability to throw the pitch for a strike and locate it out of the zone to draw swing-and-misses. Additionally, his changeup emerged as a third potentially above-average pitch as he learned to throw it with a more convincing arm action.
At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Biddle has a durable frame that allows him to work deep into starts. Over the last two years, he’s smoothed out his mechanics by eliminating some jerky movement with his upper body. He still throws across his body but has become more comfortable with the delivery and repeats it with consistency.
Using his height to throw on a downward plane, Biddle’s two-seam fastball seemingly jumps on opposing hitters and is most effective in the 90 to 93 mph range with arm-side action. His curveball is of the 11-to-5, downer variety, and he throws it hard to achieve tight rotation. His changeup has also emerged as an effective weapon with late fading action.
More importantly, Biddle has drawn praise at every minor league stop for his competitiveness and overall demeanor on the mound. Combine that with his size and three-pitch mix of above-average pitches, and the left-hander has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter in the major leagues. Considering the age and related health concerns of the team’s big league starting rotation, Biddle is on pace to make his debut by the end of the 2014 season, if not sooner.