It is easy to see why the Phillies are so smitten with the makeup of first-round draft choice Jesse Biddle, the big lefthanded pitcher they selected with the 27th overall pick out of esteemed Philadelphia private school Germantown Friends.
During his introductory press conference yesterday, Biddle spoke with a maturity well beyond his 18 years of age, from recounting the epiphany he had while watching Cole Hamels pitch in the rain in Game 5 of the World Series, to stressing his desire to sign quickly and begin his rookie season with the Gulf Coast League Phillies.
"When you listen to him speak, I think you can see that he is a little bit ahead of himself," Phillies director of scouting Marti Wolever said yesterday.
Biddle already has agreed to terms with the Phillies on a signing bonus worth in the neighborhood of $1.16 million, which is in line with Major League Baseball's recommendation for his slot.
Last year's No. 27 pick, high school shortstop Nick Franklin, signed with the Mariners for a reported $1.28 million.
Biddle plans to leave Tuesday for Clearwater, Fla., where later in the week the Phillies' rookie squad in the Gulf Coast League begins play.
"The truth is, I'm a baseball player at heart. The best way to get to the major leagues is to play as soon as you can outside of high school," said Biddle, who grew up in Mount Airy. "This team and this organization is one I trust. The signing bonus money is obviously very helpful, but that only means so much. The real indication of how much a team cares about you is where they pick you, and they chose me in the first round, and I think that means they trust me and they think I can be a guy for them. And I plan on going out this next week and doing my thing for them."
The Phillies and Biddle share a close relationship. Eric Valent, a supervising scout whose area includes Eastern Pennsylvania, first saw the 6-5, 235-pound southpaw last June. About a month later, both Valent and Wolever watched him compete at the East Coast Professional Showcase in Lakeland, Fla., where his velocity ranged from 90 to 94 mph, about four ticks faster than he had been throwing earlier in the summer.
At one point, Wolever texted Valent, who was watching Biddle throw from behind the backstop.
"Hey E," Valent recalled the text message reading, "there's our 2010 first-round draft pick."
Biddle's moment of clarity came a year before, when he watched both parts of the rain-interupted World Series clincher from seats behind home plate.
"I watched Cole Hamels pitch in the rain," Biddle said. "I watched him fight for every out he got. That was a true testament to his character and what the Phillies stand for.
"There are definitely times in your life where you have realizations, and that was definitely one of those times that I had a realization that this is what I want to do. I want to pitch in the World Series."
Wolever's best guess yesterday was that Biddle would have a serious chance of reaching the major leagues within 4 or 5 years. The Phillies are eager to see how the sudden immersion into the repetitions and exposure of professional baseball speeds his development. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but Valent thinks that it could develop quickly into a plus pitch for him. He also likes Biddle's slider, which he says has the makings of an out pitch. Biddle also throws a changeup and a curveball, although his repertoire remains raw.
Yesterday, Biddle emphasized both his desire to improve and his desire to reach the majors ahead of his prescribed time.
"I'm getting the start tonight," the confident yet unassuming Biddle joked. "Roy Halladay's now the No. 2."
The Phillies do not appear to have any immediate plans to make a roster move that would give manager Charlie Manuel another option at designated hitter heading into interleague series at Boston and New York. Last year, they called up outfielder John Mayberry Jr. specifically to serve as designated hitter, and he responded by hitting a home run off Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte in his debut. But while Mayberry is hitting .268 with nine home runs and 11 doubles at Triple A Lehigh Valley this season, he hasn't played since June 5, when he bruised his left knee sliding into a wall while attempting to make a sliding catch of a foul ball. The Phillies are also scheduled to face three righthanded pitchers in Boston, although they are on pace to face Pettitte and fellow lefty CC Sabathia in New York next week.
Manuel said yesterday he is not aware of any plans to make a roster move. The Phillies have several options to face righties John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield this weekend, with lefthanded hitting Greg Dobbs and Ross Gload both on the bench.
"We'll put somebody in there," Manuel said. "We've got candidates."
The Phillies have agreed to terms with second-rounder (77 overall) Perci Garner, a right-handed pitcher out of Ball State . . . Flyers goalie Michael Leighton was in attendance last night and received a loud ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard . . . Last night's attendance was 44,479, the 71st consecutive sellout at Citizens Bank Park.