Lefty prospect fans Double-A Reading teammate, earns victory for Team USA
NEW YORK -- Left-hander Jesse Biddle and third baseman Maikel Franco, teammates on the Double-A Reading Fightin' Phils, found themselves in opposite dugouts at Citi Field on Sunday. Biddle was pitching for the United States and Franco for the World team in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
So, naturally, they had to devise a plan for what they'd do if they faced each other. They agreed that Franco would hit the ball hard, but line out to second. And then, just as naturally, Biddle turned around and said his real plan was to strike out Franco.
"I don't think so," Franco said with a laugh when told of the pitcher's true intentions.
As it turned out, Biddle came out of the bullpen in the top of the fourth to face Franco with two outs and runners on first and third and struck him out on three pitches.
"He didn't say anything, but he said it with his eyes. He wasn't happy, but he smiled," said Biddle, who stayed in to pitch the fifth and picked up the win in Team USA's 4-2 victory.
"I wanted to strike him out. I'll be honest. It's a friendly competition."
Franco, who started at designated hitter and was hitless in two at bats, was asked what he thought when he saw Biddle coming out of the bullpen.
"My friend coming in, ready for battle," Franco said. "He was working on me. He got me."
Biddle said he'd never come into a game in the middle of an inning before.
"It' pretty cool to get the win in the Futures Game," he said. "It's a cool little thing."
They are an odd couple. Biddle is a Philadelphia area native. Franco is from the Dominican Republic. Biddle was the Phillies' first-round Draft pick in 2010. Franco was signed later that year without much fanfare. Together, though, they represent the future for the Phillies, a changing of the guard as the nucleus of the teams that won five straight National League East title inevitably ages.
Biddle, only 21, has made steady progress through the system. And at a time when teams seem more willing than ever to give youngsters a chance to show what they can do at the big league level, it's not surprising that he can't wait for his time to come. At the same time, he's realistic about the process.
"From [Double-A] Harrisburg, Anthony Rendon was called up to the big leagues [by the Nationals]. When you see that stuff, you say, 'Why can't that be me?'" he said. "It gives you a little bit more motivation to keep working. You know you're not really far away. The trend is put the best guy out there. That's the way it should be. It shouldn't just be seniority. The big leagues is all about winning. It's a business, but if I'm up there not winning any games, I don't deserve to be there."
Biddle has had a curious season He has a 3.33 ERA. He's allowed just 70 hits while striking out 107 in 97 1/3 innings. He also has 49 walks and eight wild pitches, which helps explain why he's 3-9.
"It's just consistency. It really is. I'll have games when I'm really consistent and down in the zone and I pitch really well. Then I'll have games when I'm not," he said. "And that's just how Minor League baseball is. That's why they have Minor League baseball. That's why I think baseball's the best sport in the world because you need that. You need four or five years of adjustment and getting your rhythm and your timing and figuring all your mechanics out. That's why it's such an amazing sport.
"I personally believe I have the stuff to pitch in the big leagues. It's just a matter of working on my mechanics and getting to the point where I can do it every time without even thinking about it."
Franco, meanwhile, is having a breakout season. He was batting .299 for the Class A Clearwater Threshers when promoted and then got even hotter. In 19 Double-A games he's hitting .392 with 5 home runs and 15 RBIs. He's made it look easy and he's only 20.
"It's not easy," he said, laughing again. "I work all the time. A lot of focus. I've got an opportunity here, I'm taking the opportunity and having fun. You know what I mean? ... I'm putting in a lot of practice time, a lot of focus on the game."
When he first signed, Franco didn't speak a word of English. He's also worked diligently at learning the language. Offered the opportunity Sunday to speak through a translator, he chose to conduct the interview in English.
Observed Biddle: "We played together in the GCL. He was one of the first guys I talked to. He definitely didn't speak much English back then. He's gotten a lot better at it. He's a really smart kid. He's genuinely a very, very nice person. That's universal. He's a lot of fun to have in the clubhouse. He's a goofy guy."
Learning the language, Franco said, was even harder than learning to play third base. But he's progressed so well on the field that he has to be considered, along with Cody Asche, as the Phillies' potential third baseman of the future.
Soon enough, Biddle and Franco will be back together again with Reading, dreaming about the not-too-distant day when they could both be playing at Citizens Bank Park.