Bisenius rising through the ranks

Bisenius rising through the ranks

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Even among the players who typically don numbers 60 and above, Joe Bisenius draws attention.

Beyond the bald head that glistens, or the icy blue eyes that shoot lasers through their target, Bisenius earns notice for the confidence emanating from his right arm.

His name has come up often this spring, largely because of his rapid progression last year, when the 24-year-old corrected a delivery flaw and soared in his transition from starter to hard-throwing reliever. Though he's likely ticketed for Triple-A Ottawa, a dominating spring could change that thinking.

"Anytime you hear that people are happy with your progress, it's a good feeling, but I still have to perform, show my ability and give them confidence, so when a time comes that they need me, they'll call on me," Bisenius said.

For Bisenius to follow the path laid by Carlos Silva in 2002 and followed two years later by Ryan Madson, who were earmarked for the Minors in those respective springs, he'll have to overpower hitters the way he did in Class A Clearwater and Double-A Reading in 2006, when he combined to whiff 95 batters in 84 innings.

After isolating his control problems from 2005 as a mechanical issue, Bisenius simplified his delivery and noticed the difference almost immediately.

"I smoothed things out and gained more velocity," Bisenius said. "It was just not trying to muscle everything, staying nice and easy and let the ball fly out of my hand. Staying fluid has helped out a lot. They were telling me that for two years, but it was hard to believe. Throwing with an easier motion made me throw harder."

The delivery led to improved control, reducing Bisenius' walk total from 37 in 64 1/3 innings to 30 in 84 innings. He followed up 2006 with successful stints in the Arizona Fall League and the Venezuelan Winter League, and has been impressive in throwing sessions this spring, and has a perfect inning to his credit in Grapefruit League action.

"He has a big-time power breaking ball," said pitching coach Rich Dubee, who also watched Bisenius in the Arizona Fall League. "He could be knocking on the door. It's just a matter of showing he can do it at the next level."

Off the field, Bisenius is the classic story of a Midwestern boy. He grew up and played baseball in Sioux City, Iowa, the state where Ray Kinsella converted prime cornfield into a field of dreams for the ghost of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and his late father.

Though it's not a state law, Bisenius remembers a four-hour family trip across Iowa to stand on the field.

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"I've been there when I was 10 years old," Bisenius said. "It's pretty cool. It's was a neat experience."

Should Bisenius poke his head in the big leagues this season, he'll become the fourth active player from Iowa, joining Phillies right-hander Jon Lieber, Indians outfielder Casey Blake and Rangers infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. Young players have a difficult time getting discovered because the high school season is played in the summer, offering students little chance to be seen by scouts in time for June's First-Year Player Draft.

That led Bisenius to Iowa Western Community College. The Expos selected him after his second season, but he enrolled at Oklahoma State, then transferred to Oklahoma City College.

His path to the Majors is as a reliever, and he may be a perfect fit for the Phillies. A former bat boy with the Sioux City Explorers, Bisenius also spent one year with the Duluth Huskies, a college summer team. There he had a teammate named Mike Schmidt.

"He actually played third base, too, along with catcher and infield," Bisenius said.

While Bisenius might not carve out the pitching equivalent of a Schmidt-like career in Philadelphia, he can see himself as a Major Leaguer someday, which isn't always a guarantee when you're a 12th-round pick.

"When I was drafted, I thought it was possible, but you realize that not a lot of draft picks end up making it," Bisenius said. "It takes you back a little bit. But over the last year, I can see it. It's definitely become a lot more realistic."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.