There has been a lot of negative talk about Phils' prospect Jesse Biddle over the last couple years.
To the uninformed observer, it's easy to see why. Last year Biddle went 5-10 with a 4.60 ERA in 94.0 innings, most of them for Double-A Reading. He struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings, but also gave up 7.9 hits per nine and walked nearly five batters per nine innings, while giving up 12 home runs.
So yeah, you look at those numbers, and you could easily come away thinking Biddle should no longer be considered a top prospect in the organization. That point was driven home even further last year, when Biddle was given time off for "an emotional break" after a three inning outing on June 23 in which he gave up 10 runs.
It seemed as though Biddle was simply a struggling pitcher who lost his confidence.
Of course, everyone should know the true story by now. Last May, Biddle was caught in a vicious hail storm in Reading. Want to know how bad it was? Take a gander.
Biddle recounted the story to Philly.com's Bob Brookover last week.
"It was really a pretty horrible thing that happened," he said. "I got caught in the middle of a storm and my car basically caved in. The back windshield exploded and the front windshield was about to explode and I had glass all over my arms. There were glass shards everywhere, so I ran out of the car to go get coverage and while I was running I got blasted in the back of the head and was bleeding."
"After that, I didn't really feel right and I was very confused," Biddle said. "I had a concussion when I was younger, but I didn't really remember what it felt like."
Biddle had a concussion, something that was ignored by many media members last season when discussing his struggles.
As Brookover noted in his piece, Biddle pitched decently in his first 10 starts, going 3-4 with a 3.18 ERA, and did even better in the eight starts before the hailstorm, when he went 3-3 with a 2.33 ERA.
But after the hail, and after suffering the concussion, Biddle struggled, going 0-5 with a 9.82 ERA, walking 15 and striking out just 16 in 22 innings.
Fast forward to now. Biddle is on the team's 40-man roster and is in spring camp with the Phils, getting ready to start the season at Reading for the third season in a row. And as CSNPhilly's Jim Salisbury says, the young left-hander has been impressive so far.
"When you have that type of arm and you see a guy be able to control everything, it’s fun to watch," said pitching coach Bob McClure. "Of course, it’s not to Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels yet, but I mean, you can see it getting there someday possibly if he goes about everything right. It’s impressive to watch. The accuracy, the flow, how easy it was just to throw that hard. It looks really good."
"I think it’s an important year for him because last year was a tough one and he’s got some things to overcome," said general manager Ruben Amaro. "But if and when he does, he’s going to be a quality product.
"We love his stuff. We think he’s got a chance to be a very productive major-league pitcher. It’s just a matter of getting back on track."
Biddle has always had control issues, concussions aside, with a minor league career walk rate of 4.5 per nine. Those need to be fixed. But he has also has struck out 9.3 batters per nine as well, and with his mind finally free of the cobwebs caused by the concussion, Biddle can hit the reset button and focus on finally making progress in 2015.
Keep in mind, he just turned 23 years old. There is still plenty of time for the Mt. Airy product to make good on the promise he showed early in his pro career.
Happily, the early reports are good. And if the team jettisons as much of the starting rotation as we think they might this year, and Biddle makes progress in Double-A, it's not crazy to think you could see him in a Phillies uniform some time in 2015.
What a pleasant surprise that would be.