In 2008, 17-year-old Jesse Biddle sat in the stands at Citizens Bank Park overjoyed. He saw players hugging each other and fans pumping their fists in the air while fireworks streamed overhead. The Philadelphia Phillies had just won the World Series.
"That was one of the most moving, emotional moments I've ever experienced at a baseball field," said the Phillies' top prospect.
A bit more than five years later, the southpaw hopes to be on the field for another October celebration, though he knows it won't be easy.
MLB.com's No. 53 prospect is coming off a season in which he caught whooping cough, battled foot pain and had his worst ERA (3.64) since his first season in the Minors while pitching for Double-A Reading. Despite these issues, the Philadelphia native is determined to make his Major League debut this season and accomplish his ultimate goal of helping his favorite team parade down Broad Street once again.
The 6-foot-4 left-hander took a moment between Spring Training practices in Clearwater, Fla., to talk to MiLB.com about his goals, most impressive competition and role models.
MiLB.com: Last season had its ups and downs for you; how did the struggles fuel your offseason?
Biddle: It really, really drove me. The thing that was very frustrating was, in my last inning of the season, I walked four guys in a row and then got out of the inning. But that was how I went out and that was what I had to sit on for the last five, six months. It really pushed me in my workouts -- my training was harder than ever and I'm stepping up my game in every aspect.
MiLB.com: What are your goals for the upcoming season?
Biddle: I would like to pitch in the big leagues as soon as possible. As soon as they need me, I want to be ready and willing -- and I think that I am. I think that I just need to show them consistency and that's what they want to see from me. That's I'd say my biggest goal, to be consistent and to consistently pound the strike zone.
MiLB.com: Along with your consistency, what do you need to do to be ready for the bigs?
Biddle: When people ask me what I feel like I need to get better at, it's always, "everything." There are so many things as a pitcher that you can work on every day, whether it's just taking care of your arm, or your mental training, or fastball command when you're throwing in the bullpen. But just to name a couple, I think that my fastball command can always get better. I think that it was definitely inconsistent last year, and I'd like to work on my pick-off move a little more, and you can always get better at fielding your position.
MiLB.com: Last season started off well, but then you ran into some trouble. What happened?
Biddle: A lot of things happened. I don't really want to blame it on any one thing -- I think it was kind of a snowball effect in a lot of ways. I was diagnosed with whooping cough in April, right after I started off really well and that slowed me down a little bit. I wasn't feeling well at all, the cough just kept getting worse and worse, but I allowed it to affect me mentally. That was totally on me, and I ended up costing my team a few games and not being able to pitch to the standard that everybody holds me to and that I hold myself to. It's a learning process -- that's why they have Minor League Baseball.
MiLB.com: How does whooping cough affect you on the mound and how do you plan to stay healthy going into this season?
Biddle: Being diagnosed with whooping cough, there's really nothing you can do. That's just one of those things that's an adversity you have to face in life. It became very difficult when every pitch, I felt like I was going to cough up my lung. But once I realized that I can deal with that and I can go through a season feeling that way battling it, I realized that the way that I'm going to stay healthy this year is to keep doing what I'm doing. I work as hard as I can every day, and when I do that, I feel like it gives me my best chance to stay healthy. Last year there were just some bad circumstances, and there's not a whole lot I can control. I just have to control the things that I can.
MiLB.com: Your best ERA was in August at the end of the season. What did you learn midseason to help you finish strong?
Biddle: I think that I learned a lot about what it takes to play a full season. In my previous years in Minor League Baseball, I felt healthy all season, so it didn't really take that much to get up every day and go to the field. It really was like, "I feel good, so I'm just going to keep going," and there wasn't much to it. After I started feeling sick, it became a real grind -- it was the first time I had to really battle my way through every start.
MiLB.com: Since you grew up a Phillies fan, what do you think it would be like to step on the mound at Citizens Bank?
Biddle: I've been asking myself that every day. It really would be amazing to be able to have my friends and family and the whole city supporting me in the way that they have throughout my whole journey. It would be incredible. But instead of worrying about the fans and everything, once I get on the mound, I really like to think about making pitches and getting the Phillies the "W."
MiLB.com: What was it like being drafted by your favorite team, and how did you decide to sign rather than play at the University of Oregon?
Biddle: I kind of felt like I won the lottery, I kind of felt like everything just lined up exactly the way I wanted it to, and there was just no reason for me to go play college baseball. I haven't regretted it for one day. … But when it comes down to it, I'm no different than any other player. I'm just another Phillies Minor League Baseball player trying to make it. Just because I'm from Philadelphia, doesn't make it an easier journey back home.
MiLB.com: Who are you most looking forward to playing or working with this spring?
Biddle: Watching the way Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee go about their business is something that is definitely a point of emphasis for me. Those guys are two of the best pitchers in the game and two of the best role models you could have.
MiLB.com: A.J. Burnett recently signed with the Phillies -- what do you think you could learn from him?
Biddle: He's been around the game for a while -- he's got a lot of experience, he's a real workhorse and he's got amazing stuff. I'd love to just watch his mechanics and some of the little things that he does. That's a cool sign; that's a good thing for the Phillies. And hopefully that's the little bit that will get us over the hump and get us towards the playoffs.
MiLB.com: As far as Minor League players, who have you competed against so far that you're just like, "Wow, they will be very successful in the majors one day"?
Biddle: In the Futures Game, it was really cool to watch Byron Buxton. ... He's definitely one of those guys you have no doubts about -- the question is, just how good is he going to be? We played Miguel Sano a few times in the Minors last year in Double A; he's got incredible power. There's a lot of really good pitchers that I've faced, Noah Syndergaard being one of them, with the Mets. Maikel Franco, one of my buddies with the Phillies -- the display he put on last year in Reading, when he came up and hit over .400 for the first couple months was pretty amazing.
MiLB.com: What was the best thing you did during the offseason?
Biddle: I went to London with my girlfriend this offseason. I had never been out of the country, so that was a really cool thing. I went to see her dad, who was in the World Triathlon, and he finished in the top 15 in the world for his age group, which is amazing. That was definitely a highlight of the offseason.