I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2010 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.
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Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are you still 6’6”, 225 lbs?
Jesse Biddle: I’m about 6’5½”, and actually around 235 lbs right now. I started my freshman year at about 172 lbs and ever since then I’ve been growing. I think part of it is just my frame getting bigger as I’ve gotten older, but I’ve also been working really hard in the weight room to put on weight since the start of my sophomore year. That effort has really helped me out a lot.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Before we get to baseball, can you tell me a little about you and sports in general? Have you played any others?
Jesse Biddle: I was on my high school varsity basketball team as a freshman, and I played a lot of basketball growing up, but after freshman year I quit basketball just to focus on baseball.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Did you hit a growth spurt at a specific point, or have you always been a tall kid?
Jesse Biddle: Actually, when I was born I was the second heaviest baby in the hospital’s history, weighing over 11 pounds – I think I was 11 lbs, 7 oz or something like that. My mom is a trooper! [Laughs] I was always a step ahead in height I think – you can look at the measuring wall where we kept my height and see it.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When did it hit you that you were pretty good at baseball and could maybe do something with it?
Jesse Biddle: Well, when I was 11 years old I broke the homerun record in my Little League and then when I was 12 I wasn’t allowed to pitch very much. I hurt my arm when I was 12, but before that, in one of my first times out, I almost hit a kid and it kind of scared people because I was throwing pretty hard. That made me realize that maybe I was pretty good, and then when I was 14 as an 8th grader my school team didn’t let me pitch because it was too close – it was 50 feet. So I didn’t get to pitch at all my 8th grade year, other than maybe two or three innings for the high school JV team. Then I tried out for this team called the Philadelphia Senators, who at the time were the #3 team in the country, and after making the team I flew down to Orlando the following week with them. That was when I kind of realized that maybe I do have a shot at this and maybe this is something I want to pursue as a career.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you remember the first time that you hit 90 MPH?
Jesse Biddle: I think it was my sophomore summer that it happened, because freshman year I was mid 80s, sophomore year I was high 80s, and then that summer I was finally able to get it up to 90 MPH.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you find it different playing baseball in the northeast when the majority of the other talked about draft prospects are from states like California, Texas, and Florida?
Jesse Biddle: You know, I think it is a lot different, I think that there are definitely a lot of things that are true about living in the northeast – it’s April and it’s still 50 degrees here, whereas in Florida it’s beautiful, as always. I think that in the end though there really aren’t any excuses. I understand that the kids from the west coast and the kids from Texas get to play a lot more, but I like to think that we’re raised a little tougher, got a little tougher skin on us because we know how to pitch in the cold weather, you know? In that respect I think my arm has a little bit more left than some other people’s because I haven’t really thrown that many innings in my life compared to a lot of these prospects.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is it about Oregon that drew you completely across the country to play for the Ducks?
Jesse Biddle: Well, when I hit 90 MPH that sophomore summer, I actually played for this team called NorCal out in California. When I was 15 I had pitched against them down in Florida and we ended up losing 2-1 in extra-innings, but I threw really well and they offered me a spot on their team. I don’t know why, but something that had always been intriguing to me was being recruited by and playing in the PAC-10, so when I got the opportunity to be out in that area I took advantage of it. I flew out there and stayed for seven or eight weeks in the summer and played with that NorCal team, and from there a lot of the PAC-10 schools saw me pitch and offered me scholarships, so being able to choose Oregon in the end was pretty awesome.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What other schools were you considering out there?
Jesse Biddle: I visited North Carolina over here, and then I flew out with my family to visit Arizona State, Oregon State, and then Oregon. I was on the phone with a lot of different schools all over the country.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How much have you thought about the draft? Some guys say that that it’s the last thing on their mind before they go to sleep and some guys say that they’re trying hard as hell to not even contemplate it. Where do you stand in that spectrum?
Jesse Biddle: I’m kind of in the middle. I don’t want to say that it’s the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep, because it’s not. I see that it’s something that I can’t control because in the end I don’t choose which team picks me – the only thing I can do is control how well I play. In the long run the thing I’m worrying about is how hard I’m working compared to the other guys, and the last thing in the world I want to have is regrets. If I don’t get drafted as high as I think I should have, the last thing I want to say to myself is that I could’ve worked harder to get there.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself to dream, what is the image you get in your mind when you think about playing professionally?
Jesse Biddle: It seems perfect to me, you know? It’s playing baseball for a living, playing it as a job, and in that respect I don’t think there’s any way to beat it. I know it’s a grind and there’s a lot of stuff about how you don’t get paid that much, and it’s everyday that you’re going out there to play baseball, which some people are scared away by, but to me that’s perfect – that’s what I want.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from?
Jesse Biddle: I’ve filled out questionnaires for all 30 of them, and I think I’ve had 24 come into the house.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you had contact with the Yankees?
Jesse Biddle: I played for the Yankees scout team over the summer in the Area Code Games, so I got to be really close with the main area scout from the northeast, Matt Hyde, and we still talk on the phone a lot – he’s become a pretty good family friend. I also got to talk to some of the other area guys, too, so just being around the Yankees scouts I think they got a good feel for me, and I got a good feel for them. Also, when I was just down in Florida I got invited to go to the minor league spring training complex in Tampa. I got to hang out with the assistant scouting director, John Kremer, he showed my high school coach and me around the facility, and we got to sit down and watch a game. So I got to sit down with him, I got to sit down with the mental conditioning coach, and I got to sit down with the head of player development, Mark Newman. I talked to them, got to ask some questions, and they made playing for the Yankees sound like a pretty sweet deal. As far as I can tell, I haven’t really seen an organization that handles its players better than the Yankees. There might be some that handle them equally, but as far as I can tell there’s nobody better.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Did you throw for them?
Jesse Biddle: No, I just went around the complex. I had a start the next day that Mr. Kremer said he was going to come to, so I guess I threw for them then.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you give me a detailed description of your arsenal?
Jesse Biddle: My go to pitch is my four-seam fastball. I throw it about 90-93 MPH, sometimes I might touch 94 MPH, and I throw from a three-quarters arm-slot – I think that helps me get a little armside run to it. From there, I like to say that I have three pitches that I feel evenly about, but my curveball is the one that I probably feel a little more comfortable throwing, with two strikes or when I’m behind in the count. That’s probably low to mid 70s depending how I throw it, and it’s a 12-to-6 curveball. I’ve always had a pretty good feel for it, to be able to throw it for strikes, and it being a 12-to-6 is something that’s always helped me a lot because that’s pretty hard to teach. Then I have a slider that I’ve been working on, and I’ve only had it for a year now, but that’s high 70s to low 80s when I throw it right. I’ll throw it more to lefties when I’m ahead in the count, and then use a back-foot slider to righties to see if I can see if I can get a swing. I have a changeup, too, and that’s high 70s to low 80s also. That’s the one I used a lot this summer and it was really big for me, because just throwing 90 MPH doesn’t mean these big hitters in these tournaments can’t hit you. In high school ball a changeup is not really that important, but when the big guns are swinging the bats you’ve got to have an offspeed pitch to offset the fastball. I also have a two-seam fastball that I’ve been experimenting with, I don’t use it a lot yet, but that’s mid-to-high 80s. So those are my five pitches and I pretty much feel comfortable throwing all of them in any count, which I think is a big part of pitching.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is the slider you’re throwing of the hard, biting variety, or more slurvy? Also, what kind of change are you throwing?
Jesse Biddle: I’m still experimenting with the slider, I think I can throw both of them, but right now I’d say it’s closer to a slurve. I’d like to be able to get it up into the mid-80s, but right now it’s in the high-70s, low-80s until I get really comfortable with it. For my change I have a new grip that one of my advisors taught me, and he learned it from Pedro. I can’t really explain it, but it’s got a little bit of a two-seam action, it dips a lot, and it’s really good to throw to a righty.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You said you’re sitting 90-93 MPH now, which is a little higher than you were last summer, correct?
Jesse Biddle: Yeah, last summer it really depended on the start. I didn’t get many innings under my belt in my high school season so I was still kind of getting warmed up going into the summer. This year I’m sitting in the low 90s and hit 94 MPH in my last start, which is pretty good, and I just want to keep on ramping it up. It’s still cold here, but that’s alright [laughs].
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your personality on the mound?
Jesse Biddle: I used to be one of those kids listening to hardcore rap before games and really getting into it, but what I saw was that I’d get out there throwing as hard as I could but I couldn't find the strikezone. So now I have a different pregame ritual, I like to be really calm out on the mound and not have anything faze me, because when you’re out there you never know what’s going to happen. When things are going your way it’s really easy to be hyped and all that stuff, but that doesn’t happen every time. I like to think that I’m really even-keeled out there – when things are going bad I’m able to stay focused, and that’s when I get even tougher.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is it safe to assume you are a Phillies fan?
Jesse Biddle: Yes, big-time Phillies fan. I live in Philly, and I’ve lived in the same house my whole life, so it’s hard not to be a Phillies fan. Especially now that they’re pretty good, which is cool, but yeah – I go to Phillies games; I do the whole thing, I’m a big Phillies fan.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So, after last fall, it had to hurt a little going to Tampa for that visit, huh?
Jesse Biddle: [laughs] Wearing a Yankees hat over the summer was tough. I think that as much as I don’t like the Yankees as a fan, I can get over that pretty quickly. I actually went to a couple of those World Series games in Philly, and as much as there’s this whole thing about the Yankees really not doing it the right way by buying all their players, the way I see it is that they really buy ballplayers; guys that know how to play the game. From that perspective you’ve got to respect the team and the guys on it.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who are the players that you look up to for their skills or the way they play the game?
Jesse Biddle: As a Phillies fan I think it’s easy to say that the way Cliff Lee pitched in the postseason last year was the best. I mean, that’s the guy I look up to the most, for the way he handled it in his interviews after he threw a complete game shutout. He was so relaxed it didn’t even seem like it was a big deal to him – it was like he expected to do it, and when he did it he just said “that’s what I came here to do, that’s why I worked hard, and I just wanted to help the team win”. I think that’s the best way to approach it. When I was growing up, and this is probably an unorthodox answer, but my dad always showed me video of Steve Carlton. He was just an intense guy that didn’t let anybody walk all over him, and being lefty he was someone I really emulated. I obviously didn’t see him live, but watching video and seeing clips of him talking has made him someone I try to model myself after.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one pitch from any other pitcher in your draft class, whose would it be and why?
Jesse Biddle: I’m going to say Jameson Taillon’s curveball. I mean, when I went to National team trials, and when I was Jameson’s roommate at the tournament of stars, I didn’t really know who he was. Then I saw him pitch and obviously he’s pretty impressive, but when we went down to the national team trials he threw five perfect innings in his outings, and just hearing the best hitters in the country talk about his curveball, they were basically saying they had no shot. I don’t think you can really ask for anything more than that.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Who is the toughest hitter you have faced.
Jesse Biddle: I’m going to say Sean Coyle from Pennsylvania. We’ve kind of always been battling - we grew up in the same area, so I’ve always had to pitch to him. He’s definitely the toughest out I’ve had all year. I was able to get most of the other guys out, but he really battles with me, and we both kind of have a personal thing with it. We’re good friends, but we kind of want to one up each other on the field, so he’s probably the toughest guy.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you heard of scouts making any comparisons with you?
Jesse Biddle: I’ve heard some people compare me to Andy Pettitte, and I don’t know how concrete those lines are between us, but it’s obviously a good comparison – I’ll take it! I’ve also had someone compare me to Brian Matusz of the Orioles, and another guy compared me to David Holmberg, a 2nd round pick of the White Sox last year.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Given that everyone wants their team to win as much as possible, What is the biggest thing you want to focus on as an individual this season?
Jesse Biddle: My biggest focus is work hard and get better. That’s obviously what everybody wants to do, but my main goal is to throw harder. The biggest thing for me is to keep adding velocity and that will allow me to move myself up the draft board. That’s the one thing I know a lot of scouts want to see from me. I’ve taken a step in the right direction so far, and I’ve got to keep going forward.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What do you like to do away from the field?
Jesse Biddle: I’m not really any different than a lot of teenagers. I like to hang out with my girlfriend, I hang out with my friends a lot, but I try to get my work in every day, too. I’ve made sacrifices in my personal life, as a lot of these guys have, but I’m still a big family guy – I love hanging out with my family and I’ve been blessed by that. In the end I don’t do anything too special though [laughs]
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is it like being 18 years old and having these amazing opportunities in front of you, yet trying to balance the pressure associated with them with just being an ordinary teenager?
Jesse Biddle: First of all it’s good. This is what I’m working so hard for and this is what I’ve wanted my whole life – to be able to make this decision. I go to a private school that’s one of the top academic schools around, and a lot of my friends have really been freaking out about going to college because that’s the biggest thing around here – going to an Ivy League school or something like that. I committed to Oregon last February or March, so I’ve known where I’m going to school for a very long time, and the biggest thing for me now is to be able to help my friends out through their process and be a good friend. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t talk about himself, I rarely talk about my baseball unless I’m asked about it, so to balance my situation out I just try not to think about it that much, because, as I said before, it’s something I can’t control. In the long run I’m going to end up playing professional baseball no matter what – at least that’s the way I see it – whether it’s in three years or in a couple of months, so either way it’s the same result. For me it’s good to see it that way, because it keeps my mind off just how big a decision it’s going to be.