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March 04, 2017

Philly native, former first-round pick Jesse Biddle ready for Phillies homecoming

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Jesse Biddle dreamed of making his major league debut with his hometown Phillies.

The 25-year-old Germantown Friends graduate won’t have that chance anymore, but he’ll take a significant step toward reaching his lifelong goal against his former team on Saturday afternoon at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Fla. Biddle, the Phillies first-round pick in 2010, will pitch in his first game in more than 18 months when the Braves take on the Phillies in Grapefruit League action today.

Biddle couldn’t help but laugh that his first game since August of 2015 just so happened to be against the Phillies, his former beloved organization, and in Clearwater, where he spent so much time developing as a prized prospect.

“It’s just one of those things,” Biddle said in the visiting dugout at Spectrum Field while his former team took batting practice. “The baseball world is pretty funny that way. And I’ve had a lot of fun coincidences in my career.”

Biddle is expected to follow Atlanta starter Aaron Blair to the mound on Saturday as the Braves first pitcher out of the bullpen.

With all of the turnover in the Phillies organization in the last two years, Biddle was asked if he thought he might get to pitch to any former minor league teammates. He immediately spotted one on the field and smiled.

“There’s a guy named Brock Stassi there who, I don’t know how he’s gotten uglier, but he has,” Biddle joked. “It’s pretty crazy. There are a lot of really good guys here, and a lot of talent, too.”

Biddle was supposed to be a part of the next wave of talent the Phillies hoped to build around following the 2007-2011 golden era when he was selected with the 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft, the same draft that netted current MLB stars Bryce Harper (1st overall), Manny Machado (3rd), Matt Harvey (7th), Chris Sale (13th), and Noah Syndergaard (38th), among others.

But the 6-5 lefty struggled with consistency throughout his six seasons in the Phillies minor league system.

Biddle was shut down with arm woes at the end of the 2015 season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, underwent Tommy John surgery on October 14, 2015, and was removed from the Phillies 40-man roster before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates 13 months ago. Biddle was released by the Pirates in mid-March and picked up by the Braves, who have kept him on their 40-man roster since.

“They took a chance on me and rehabbed me, put me on a really good program,” Biddle said. “I feel great and I couldn’t ask for anything more. The organization has been really good to me.”

If Biddle had any feelings of disappointment that he wasn’t able to fulfill his dream of reaching the big leagues with the Phillies, it didn’t show on Saturday morning.

“Honestly, I just want to play Major League Baseball and I want to play for the Braves,” he said. “I feel like we have a lot of really good things going on right now with this organization. I can’t tell you how excited I am to be a part of it.”

In addition to the physical challenges Biddle dealt with during his tenure in the Phillies system, he also endured the obvious pressures that come with being a first-round pick trying to make good for his hometown organization. Although the pitcher never made any excuses regarding that struggle, he did take what former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. referred to as a “mental break” after getting off to a tough start a Double-A Reading in 2014, basically taking the month of July off.

Again, Biddle didn’t use that as an excuse on Saturday, saying he was grateful for the "love and support" he received from his friends and family.

“I couldn’t have asked for anything different from the Phillies, anything different from my support system,” he said. “It ended up working out the way it did and there are no hard feelings anywhere. I’m really happy with where I’m at and I know the Phillies organization is looking really good right now.”

And how is he looking, from a standpoint of a former prized prospect coming off Tommy John surgery and hoping to break into the big leagues with the Braves in 2017?

“You know, we will find out,” Biddle said with a laugh. “We will find out. It’s so easy to say, ‘Yeah I’m throwing a lot of strikes’ when I haven’t had an umpire. So how am I supposed to know? In my head they’re strikes, but I assume everything is a strike when it comes out of my hand. So it’s until I have someone tell me differently. I feel really good. And I’m excited to face these red jerseys for sure.”

As he departed the bullpen before the start of the bottom of the fourth inning, Biddle pumped his fist toward his Braves teammates. When Biddle took the field, the first batter he faced in 555 days was former teammate Tommy Joseph, which was somewhat fitting.

"I was trash-talking a little bit with Tommy Joseph last night, texting" Biddle said before the game. "There are some guys I miss a lot, some really good teammates."

After walking Joseph, Biddle struck out back-to-back batters, Dylan Cozens and Aaron Altherr, before getting the Phillies current top prospect, J.P. Crawford, to ground out to end the inning. Biddle hit 94-MPH on the Spectrum Field radar gun.

His journey from Germantown Friends to the big leagues is back on, just with a different uniform.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21