It has always been said that minor league baseball is where “the stars of tomorrow, play today”. With the 2013 minor league season at the half way point, this year has been especially exciting for us who watch top Phillies prospects play at the minor league level. Two players have stood out: Jesse Biddle and Maikel Franco. We were able to watch one pitch a brilliant 16 strike out performance for Reading on MiLB-TV and the other we had been watching in person dazzle us at third base and at the plate for the Clearwater Threshers.
Biddle has had a strong AA season even though he has only a 3-6 record for the last place Reading team. He leads the Eastern league in strikeouts and despite a high number of walks he is seventh in the league in both the important WHIP and ERA categories categories.
I like to look at more than stats to measure a player’s worth. Is he a character guy? Is he a leader who makes players around him better players. Jesse Biddle answers yes to both of those questions.
In an a Mike Drago post yesterday on readingeagle.com fellow starting pitcher Seth Rosin gave credit to how Biddle urged the starting staff to do better in a recent impromptu meeting. “Jesse said, ‘Guys, it starts with us.’ Rosin would go out and pitch a seven inning complete game win. Reading has begun to turn around its season because of improved starting pitching after having the highest team ERA in the league.
Yesterday afternoon will have been the last time we will see Maikel Franco in a Clearwater Threshers uniform. He did not play in the game and the last memories of Franco with the Threshers would be coaching first base for a few innings. After the game he was called up to AA. But we will never forget what he did in his half season in the Florida State League.
I will remember his three run homer at Dunedin Stadium to start the season. He would hit two more three-run long balls that I would see him hit this season. He also would hit a tape measure bomb off the side the Tiki Bar’s thatched roof at Brighthouse. He even started to go the other way as one of his recent home runs landed on the burm over the right-centerfield wall at Bright house.
Reading’s First Energy Stadium will be ideal for more Franco blasts. Up until this season the most homers Franco hit in a season was 14 last year at Lakewood. He leaves the Threshers already with 16 home runs, tied for the league lead, at the half way mark in the season. Last year Jim Murphy led the Thresher for a full season with 17 home runs as did Darin Ruf in 2011 with 17 long balls also. Franco leads the FSL in doubles with 23 and total bases. He is second in both total hits with 79 and slugging at .576 as the second half of the FSL season starts but without Maikel Franco. He finished his FSL season with a .299 batting average.
I was fortunate enough to have Maikel sign a Florida State League ball for Baseball Betsy at the “Meet the All-Stars” event last Friday night the day before Saturday night’s All- Star game. I told him we liked to watch him hit the long ball. But in reality I liked watching him play third base just as much. His barehanded throws, good glove, strong arm and range were impressive. He played nearly the first 50 games of the season with out being charged with an error at third before making several errors over the last several weeks at third. His defense at third for a 20 year old who will not turn 21 until August 26 will only get better.
With the Phillies struggling now for the second straight season to play .500 baseball it will soon be time to turn the page on the core players of the major league team and look for new younger leadership to lead the team. Two Phillies stars of tomorrow are right now in their minor league system. Twenty-one year old Jesse Biddle is only about 11 month older than Maikel Franco. They both are expected to start tonight in the same Reading lineup. It will be these two stars of tomorrow who will be expected to provide the leadership on the mound and the pop at the plate to get the Phillies back into contention for future World Championships of Baseball.