The Phillies seems to have a tradition of naming young minor league starting foursomes. Back in the mid 90’s they had the “young guns”. They were four highly touted pitchers who were going to lead them to the promised land. It turn out only one ever pitched for them and he went 10-12 in 60 appearances before his career was over. Last year four young starters were given the name “baby aces”; a word play off of the four aces the major league team had in 2011. Three of them, Trevor May, Jonathan Pettibone and Julio Rodriquez pitched last year at Clearwater and threw an inning each in the Florida State League All Star game. All three have been promoted to Reading this year. Still other starting pitchers in the organization might be better than them now and in the long run. In the first starts for two of the “baby aces”, May gave up four runs in five innings and Pettibone gave up only one run but was nicked for 10 hits in his Reading debut. Rodriquez gets his first start Monday night in Reading.
Other young starting pitching prospects do exist in the Phillies organization and I will be watching them closely this season. We have already written about Tyler Cloyd pitching a six inning perfect game to open the season for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Cloyd retired all 18 AAA Yankees he faced and struck out eight of them. Last night at AA Reading David Buchanan pitched a no run, two hitter for seven inning and struck out a career high nine to pick up the win against the Red Sox’s Portland farm team. At high A Clearwater we were impress as we mentioned in a previous blog with lefty Adam Morgan who struck out six in 4.2 innings to open the season in the Florida State League season against Dunedin. On Saturday night we were again at Dunedin to watch lefty Jesse Biddle’s FSL debut. He gave up one earned run and struck out five in his four inning start.
If you are ever in the Tampa Bay area and love minor league baseball you have to visit Dunedin Stadium, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays and the FSL Dunedin Blue Jays. It’s a small intimate venue where the seats seem like they are right behind the home plate umpire’s shoulder and hug the first and third base lines. So close are the seats that they have hung nets behind both dugouts for the safety of the fans to protect them from foul balls . Not that many fans ever show up for FSL games there. In fact so few fans show up that all seats are six dollar general admission. Can’t beat that for a great evening of baseball entertainment. Watch what you say to the home plate umpire though because it feels like you are sitting right behind him. Baseball Betsy and I went right down to the first row on the third base side of home plate for Saturday night’s game. It was like sitting over the left shoulder of the home plate umpire separated only by a protective net in front of us. With a pitch speed gun reading on the left center field scoreboard, you could not find a better ballpark to watch a pitcher work. It feels like you are part of the game.
Twenty year old, Philadelphia native and 2010 Phillies first round draft pick, Jesse Biddle was making his first Florida State League start on Saturday night for the Threshers. We had a perfect view of the his pitches as they came right at us. His fastball was clocked between 87 and 91 mph on the scoreboard but his best pitch was his major league quality curve ball that broke late on a sharp downward tilt as it approached the batters at 73 mph. Jesse gave up one earned run and struck out five in four inning of work. He was on a pitch count and left with a lead but he was one inning short to qualify for a win.
Biddle is not a Vance Worley but they had one thing in common in their first starts of the season. They both had five strikeouts and three of them were backward K’s. For Biddle it was his wicked curve ball and for Worley it was the backdoor slider that froze the hitters for strike three called. Worley led all National League pitchers last year when 55% of his strike outs were called third strikes. All Jesse needs to do is to get command of his pitches to lowers his pitch count. He has the most important pitch for any pitcher: the out pitch which freezes the batters with two strikes on them.
We had seen Jesse make his NewYork-Penn League debut with Williamsport in August of 2010 and now his Florida State League debut. He just needs a little more command of his pitches to be pitching in Citizens Bank Park in a few years. In Saturday night’s game he was running deep counts and walked three. Pitching coach Dave Lundquist needed to visit the mound several innings to slow the game down for him. In a few years, once he works in a change up and probably a cut fastball, he will be a very effective major league starting pitcher.
Of course it is still early but having watched Tyler Cloyd pitch on Milb-TV, reading about the two hit, seven inning shut out by David Buchanan and watching the pitching of Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle in person the Phillies minor league system clearly has more quality young starting pitching than just the “baby aces”. It will be interesting to see how they all do as the season progresses.