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Phillies say picking local lefthander was a no-brainer

Officially, the Phillies didn't make the decision on who to take in the first round of this year's draft until shortly before 9:30 last night.

Officially, the Phillies didn't make the decision on who to take in the first round of this year's draft until shortly before 9:30 last night.

Now it can be told. The truth is that, barring an unforeseen road block, they'd known since last Wednesday that they intended to spend the 27th overall selection on a local product, lefthander Jesse Biddle from Germantown Friends School.

They made up their minds last Wednesday after Biddle, 18, auditioned privately in the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park and wowed the assembled baseball people.

"He was outstanding, even better than he had been during the course of the year," scouting director Marti Wolever said. "We just felt at this time he was the best high school lefthander on the board. And it really was a no-brainer."

Wolever compared the 6-5, 225-pound Biddle to Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw, who was drafted in the first round in 2006, made his major league debut 2 years later and was 8-8, 2.79 in his first full big-league season last year.

"They're about the same size. Jesse's arm might work a little easier, quite frankly, than Clayton's did. But I think ceiling-wise and stuff-wise they're very comparable. We think Jesse has a chance to be that guy in the big leagues."

Some teams may have been concerned about Biddle's signability. The Phillies apparently aren't.

"I think it's very good. He has a commitment to the University of Oregon. But I think he at least expressed a desire to pitch [professionally]. And, of course, now's a pretty good fit here in your hometown. I think any young man would be pressed to walk by this opportunity, especially in the first round," Wolever said.

He quickly added that being from the area wasn't the reason the Phillies drafted Biddle. "He's a legitimate guy. "It has nothing to do with where he's from. It's all about what we think he's got as chance to be," he said. "There's a tremendous top side to him."

Biddle is being advised by Northern California-based agent Matt Sosnick, who represents Dontrelle Willis, among others. Wolever noted that "he tries to get his kids out to play."

The more the Phillies saw of Biddle this year, the more they liked him. His stock rose as the season progressed, culminating in last week's workout. He's still considered raw but with a lot of potential.

"He wasn't overwhelmed by being here in the park. He got prepared properly. He's very intelligent, knows what to do," Wolever said. "He really handled himself well. He just really acted like he belonged.

"He's got fastball, curveball, slider and change. His slider is really the pitch that's come on here recently. It's really developed quickly. Everything has really developed quickly with him. He's come a long way really fast. That was another intriguing point to us, how far he's come from the beginning of spring until now.

"On Wednesday he was up to 94. A very easy 94. And I think there's still some more there yet. Earlier in the year I think he was 89, 90, 91, in that range. So I think there's still a ceiling to him yet."

Biddle was 9-2 with a 1.06 earned run average this season with 140 strikeouts in 59 1/3 innings. He allowed just 21 hits and walked 29. As a junior, he was 5-0 with an 0.64 ERA.

There was, of course, a backup. The Phillies didn't expect another team to swoop in and take Biddle before their turn came around, but were prepared just in case.

"We had a group of people. We always do, about three or four. Just in case someone picks our pocket in front of us. So we had some other kids in consideration at 27. But he certainly was the top of the pile," Wolever said.

One of the players under consideration was University of Texas righthander Brandon Workman, who was not taken in the top 50 picks yesterday. The Phillies will strongly consider him if he's still available when they next pick at No. 77.

The draft will continue today with rounds 2 through 30 and conclude tomorrow with rounds 31 through 50.