READING Jesse Biddle was prepared for the moment he had Tuesday morning when he stood in front of a swarm of media answering questions left and right from everything about fastball command to ostriches roaming behind the outfield wall.
It's like he was born for that moment. Well, that and throwing a baseball.
He's no longer the baby-faced kid who pitched three games for the Williamsport Crosscutters three years ago. He's not the wide-eyed teenager trying to comprehend how just a couple months after pitching in the PIAA playoffs he was being paid by the Philadelphia Phillies to pitch to professional baseball players.
Jessie Biddle spent part of his first professional season in Williamsport. He’s now in double-A Reading.
Three years ago as he tried to put into perspective his whirlwind summer of 2010 where he was the 27th overall pick of the Phillies, all he could do was laugh. Tuesday, answering questions during the Reading Fightin Phils' annual media day, Biddle brushed off the fact most scouting services have him pegged as the Phillies' top prospect. The 21-year old Philadelphia native brushed off a question about being excited to play for his hometown Phillies, choosing instead to speak about how excited he is to be a part of the first team in Reading to be officially called the Fightin Phils.
His excitement level to play at Double-A Reading is genuine, even if it means wearing a navy blue hat with a giant cartoon ostrich on the front.
"We got all these new uniforms. We got ostriches running around. It's going to be a really exciting year," Biddle said. "And it's going to be fun."
Yes, there really are two ostriches walking around a fenced-in area beyond the centerfield wall, ostriches which Biddle said he's already gone out to visit. It's all a part of the re-branding the Fightin Phils took part in during the offseason. The 45-year affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies has always been known as the Reading Phillies until this past offseason.
It's all something Biddle said he's glad to be a part of, and he's going to be a big part of the Fightin Phils' season. Baseball America, one of the most trusted resources on minor league baseball, named Biddle the No. 1 prospect in the Phillies' system during the winter. MLB.com did the same, as did several other scouting services.
MLB.com rated Biddle as the No. 60 prospect in all of minor league baseball. It was Biddle's second and highest appearance on the list. Biddle, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound, left-handed pitcher, scoffed at the notion yesterday that he's the organization's top prospect.
"It's hard for me to justify rating players. Baseball America is not sitting in meetings with us or at spring training every single day and understanding each player as they are," Biddle said. "So it's hard for me to see me as number one. If anything, it's a huge motivator. If I'm the number one pitcher and I'm supposed to be the best player in the organization, I need to prove that every time I go out there. I need to prove it to myself. The amount of pressure I put on myself is way more than anyone will put on me. It's very easy to handle."
Biddle recognizes there's interest every time he takes the mound. His numbers alone in 2 minor league season have proven him to be one of the Phillies' best pitching prospects. He's coming off his first career double-digit win season. He went 10-6 in a career-high 26 starts last year at advanced Class A Clearwater.
He posted a 3.22 ERA allowing less than a hit per inning and striking out more than a batter per inning. And even though the Phillies traded last year's top prospect Trevor May to Minnesota in the deal which brought Ben Revere to Philadelphia, Biddle was likely poised to become the Phillies' top prospect anyway.
He allowed one less walk per nine innings last year and recorded one more strikeout per nine innings than he did the previous year in Lakewood. The broad-shouldered, hard-throwing Biddle has been a mainstay in Phillies' prospect rankings since being a first-round draft pick in 2010, but his summer in Reading this year will be the first time he pitches in an area with a large media presence watching his every move.
He talked to players in the Phillies' system and with the big league team during spring training about what to expect when he got to Reading.
"This is more like being at home. I've pitched in the snow before," Biddle said of the weather in Reading on Tuesday which featured occasional snow flurries. "As soon as I got drafted, this is where I knew things really start to get serious. This is where people start to notice you and start to know your name."
He's got an advanced understanding of the game. He understands his downfall early in his last two seasons has been a lack of command on his fastball. He's made a concerted effort to be able to locate his fastball early this season because of days like Tuesday.
He knows in the cold weather it's a lot harder to hit than it is to pitch and he wants to turn that into just another advantage for himself, especially considering the Fightin Phils start their season with a six-game road trip to New Hampshire and Portland.
In 2 years he's learned how and when to make adjustments in his pitching. The move to AA is going to require a greater focus for all nine hitters in the lineup as the talent pool in decreased and he faces the most talented hitters of his career.
"Just because someone is the eight-hole hitter doesn't mean that he's not going to be able to hit," Biddle said "Where as at a couple of levels before I could relax a bit and just be aggressive with the fastball. Now I have to be thinking and on my toes. Every year it seems like the players get a little better and the strike zone gets a little bit smaller. So I have to be smarter."
That's just fine, though. He's been preparing for this moment. Clearly the people in Reading already know his name, now is his opportunity to show them what all the hype is about.