A Philadelphia native, Clearwater pitcher Jesse Biddle
goes way back with his favorite team.
"There's a picture of me at Veterans Stadium wearing a Phillies hat when I was 2 years old," he said.
Biddle, 20, is all grown up now at 6-foot-4, and it may not be too many more years before he goes from cheering on his hometown team to being a favorite of Philadelphia fans himself.
The left-hander was taken by the Phillies with the 27th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and has become the team's No. 2 prospect as well as No. 74 on MLB.com's Top 100 list.
Being taken by your local team brings a little extra pressure, of course. But Biddle couldn't have been happier when the Phillies called out his name.
"It was a dream come true," he said. "The team has always been a big, big part of my life. I watched every night on TV with my dad, and we'd go to a lot of games. I remember when the Phillies weren't that good. Later it was easy to be a fan, but I always was."
Getting to watch the Phillies win the World Series from a seat behind home plate in 2008 remains what Biddle calls a "life-changing moment."
"I was there both days," he said of the rain-interrupted Game 5 against Tampa Bay at Citizens Bank Park. "It was something I'll never forget. I was so fortunate to be able to be there to see it."
Biddle didn't get to go to the victory parade, though.
"Sitting out in the rain, I came down with something," he recalled. "I was sick, so I had to miss it. But I'll take the trade-off."
The graduate of Germantown Friends School received a bonus of $1.16 million and has quickly moved through the Philadelphia system. His ERA of 2.98 ranked fourth in the Class A South Atlanta League last season, and he is more than holding his own as a 20-year-old in the Class A Advanced Florida State League this year.
Most of Biddle's best work has come since he was hit on his left forearm by a liner from the first batter he faced against Daytona on May 1.
"I wanted to stay in the game, so I claimed the ball hit my glove," he said. "But no one was buying it. They could see the mark."
Biddle was ready for his next scheduled start, though. He allowed three hits and two runs over six innings in a victory against Charlotte, and the best was yet to come.
Biddle (2-2) followed up his first victory by allowing four hits and an unearned run over 6 2/3 innings in a no-decision against Bradenton, then beat Jupiter while giving up five hits and an earned run in six innings.
On Tuesday, Biddle worked a season-high seven innings and allowed one run on six hits but didn't factor into the decision at Fort Myers as his ERA dipped to 3.12. He has struck out 43 and walked 16 in 43 1/3 innings.
For Biddle, it has all been about location.
"I've gone from pitching up in the zone to low in the zone," he said. "My first three starts were rough. Hitters will tell you what isn't working. It's all about being able to make adjustments."
Biddle adjusted his body in the offseason as well, dropping 23 pounds to get to his present 215.
"I feel a lot more nimble on the mound, and it should help my knees and legs," he said.
Being trimmer should also help Biddle's stamina during the hot and humid summer ahead in the Florida State League.
"I'm sure I won't have any trouble keeping the weight off," he said.
Cole Hamels is nearing free agency, and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are getting older. But the Phillies appear to have pitching help coming in the Minor League pipeline.
"I can't wait to get the opportunity," Biddle said. "My dream was always to be out of the mound for the Phillies one day."
Martinez sidelined: Palm Beach right-hander Carlos Martinez is expected to miss at least two weeks after being placed on the disabled list because of shoulder tendinitis. He is 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 33 innings over seven starts. Martinez is No. 28 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects and No. 2 on the Cardinals' list.
Bradley also on DL: Left-hander Jed Bradley, the Brewers' No. 2 prospect, was placed on the Brevard County disabled list after tweaking the groin muscle that had been bothering him off and on since last fall. The first-round choice in the 2011 Draft didn't allow an earned run in his first three starts but had been less effective in five starts since. Bradley, who is No. 92 on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects, is 4-3 with a 3.53 ERA.
Overachievers: The St. Lucie pitching staff had dominated opposing hitters en route to a commanding lead in the South Division despite not being loaded with top prospects. The highest ranked was Cory Mazzoni at No. 20 on the Mets prospect list. The second-round pick in the 2011 Draft is 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA -- highest among starters. The team's 2.68 ERA is almost a full run lower than the league average.
Hard-lock loser: Brevard County right-hander Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers' No. 8 prospect, pitched a nine-inning complete game but lost to Fort Myers, 2-1, on Friday. The runs for the Miracle came when Oswaldo Arcia hit a homer with a man on in the sixth inning. Nelson, who has a 2.40 ERA, saw his record fall to 2-4. He allowed six hits and a walk while striking out five.