In their quest to add to their pitching cupboard, the Phillies last night turned their attention to Aaron Nola and Matt Imhof, two men they hope will join the Major League rotation in Philadelphia someday.
Four years ago, however, it was Jesse Biddle’s time in the spotlight, when the Phillies made him the 27th pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. While Biddle is still just 22, there are certain pressures and expectations that come with being the top pitching prospect in an organization. Throughout his career in the Minors, Biddle has done a fine job of navigating the waters while finding himself as a pitcher.
As Matt mentioned in his blog post last week, one of the moves he would make in June would be to promote Biddle to Lehigh Valley as soon as possible. While we did just see two call-ups this past week, with Tyler Knigge and Cam Perkins going to the Iron Pigs, is Biddle due for a promotion as well?
For starters (pun totally intended, I suppose), Biddle’s last three starts, for the most part, have been relatively encouraging:
May 14th: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 R (0 ER), 4 BB, 7 K
May 20th: 6 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
May 31st: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 3K
He will have a start tonight at home, another crucial game as Biddle presses for a promotion.
At this point, you would think there are four main options (in no real particular order of likelihood):
1. Finish the year at AA, promoted to MLB in September
2. Finish the year at AA, season over
3. Promoted to AAA soon, finish the year there, season over
4. Promoted to AAA soon, finish there, call to MLB in September
As of right now, this is a pretty interesting multiple choice test. But, if I had a gun to my head, I’d see option 3 as the likely choice.
While I disagree with Matt that Biddle would be promoted in June, it’s certainly not out of the question to assume a call-up of mid- to late-July.
With the way the big club has performed this year, there are obviously plenty of people out there thinking Biddle could be a better option than Roberto Hernandez, David Buchanan, or maybe even Kyle Kendrick.
I don’t see the point of rushing Biddle to the Majors by the end of this season. I don’t really even see Biddle starting 2015 in the Major League rotation, unless the Phillies are fully committed to a tank job that would see them leaving rotation spots open for younger options like Biddle to begin next year.
A lot of that could ride on whether or not Ruben Amaro, Jr. is the general manager. That being said, we have seen an organizational philosophy of more than a decade that seems to be very cautious with prospects of Biddle’s ilk. Would someone new push for Biddle to be in the starting rotation in 2015? Maybe we could see that sometime mid-way through the season, if the performances are up to par at AAA, but not to begin the year.
It would be one thing if we were talking 2003 Lakewood Cole Hamels type numbers for Biddle, but we aren’t. So, what exactly does Biddle have going for him in 2014?
For one, the walk rate is down. This is a fantastic sign. Biddle’s 5.33 BB/9 ratio last year was a major concern in what was a relatively disappointing 2013. He has lowered that to a 3.71 BB/9 ratio this year, a major dip. While the strikeout rate has dipped a bit (10.02 K/9 in 2013, 9.14 K/9 this season), it wouldn’t seem to be to be much of a concern. These types of numbers just weren’t there last year.
We’ve also heard that Biddle’s secondary stuff is coming along nicely. Obviously, that curveball will be a big part of his arsenal, as will the change-up. These pitches have developed, but adding a fourth pitch (slider) is what separates minor league filler guys from true prospects. If Biddle can get that slider to translate, he’ll get even more looks.
What would Biddle have going against him that could cost him a call-up? While his last three starts look decent enough on paper, he was toeing the line a little bit, which we covered in Monday’s Reading Report, so I won’t sit here and re-hash that again. The Cliffs Notes version: Biddle’s strike percentage in April was 62.09, but 57.59 in May. So, despite the walk rate going down, he was still running some deeper counts.
Another thing we have seen over his last few starts: fewer pitches, which we also discussed a bit earlier in the week. His last three starts have been 85, 87, and 81 pitches. It’s something to keep an eye on. If Biddle isn’t going deep enough into games, he’s not going to be ready to succeed at AAA.
To this date, Biddle’s 2014 simply has not been dominating enough. There is no doubt that he has made some major strides this season, and there are plenty of positives. He’s still on track to make it to the Majors, and that’s exciting. However, there is no clear “Ken Giles Effect” where you’re looking at Biddle and saying “OK, yeah, he’s getting called up, no doubt.”
Biddle’s month of June begins tonight at home, and it’s a big month for him. A breakout could put him on track for that call-up in mid-July. A tough month could keep him in the Eastern League for a bit longer. As of now, Biddle is on track for that AAA call-up sometime, and should finish the year as an Iron Pig. Even if Biddle continues doing what he’s been doing, he would still be in line for that call-up. We’ll have to wait and see if that “next level” of Biddle shows up in these next few weeks and pushes him to the Major League rotation discussion for the start of 2015.