Jesse Biddle entered 2014 as one of the top prospects in the Philadelphia Phillies system.
In 2013 he posted a 3.64 ERA with a 154/82 K/BB in 138 innings for Double-A Reading, allowing 104 hits. Although he had an ugly 5-14 record, scouts remained intrigued with his 90+ fastball, impressive curve, and workable slider and changeup. He got to pitch in the 2013 Futures Game, and he did a great job picking up strikeouts and limiting hits for Reading. The key entering 2014 was sharper control, and if he developed that he was expected to receive a big league trial late this year and a chance for a rotation spot in '15.
Alas, the universe had other plans for Biddle. Instead of moving up to Triple-A this year, he returned to Reading to open the campaign. He pitched reasonably well in April (3.62 ERA, 39/12 K/BB in 32 innings) and May (2.64 ERA, 25/14 K/BB in 31 innings), but he fell apart in June, giving up 21 hits and 25 runs with 14 walks over four starts. After a particularly difficult start on June 23rd, he was placed on the "temporarily inactive" list.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies wanted to "take a little heat off him so he can get his mind right and enjoy baseball again." Biddle himself said that he was "miserable" and that nothing on the mound "felt natural."
That sounds like a loss of confidence, but there was more than that going on. According to this Philadelphia Inquirer note, Biddle's problems began after he was hit in the head by a piece of hail in late May. Suffering headaches as a result, he was diagnosed with a concussion and missed a start. Although he was subsequently medically cleared to play, he got blasted in his next four outings before being shut down.
Biddle himself said that he felt unhappy and didn't know why, and that he didn't feel fluid on the mound. While he had medical permission to pitch, it doesn't take a doctor to know what was really happening here: he was still feeling the effects of the hail blow to the head. I know from personal experience that headaches, general misery and feeling unnatural in ways that you can't quite explain are classic concussion symptoms. Even after the initial pain subsides, it can take weeks (or months) before you are genuinely better neurologically.
The good news is that Biddle has been resting and rehabbing in extended spring training and it sounds like things are going well. Phillies Director of Player Development Joe Jordan was quoted by the Inquirer yesterday: "I think he's really back to himself right now. He's very, very relaxed, his throwing sessions have been really good."