READING - This season the No. 1 story line from the Phillies minor-league system will be the continued development of the Baby Aces.
They are three righthanders who have moved up together and are now making the leap from high single-A Clearwater to double-A Reading, which will begin its season Thursday.
All three are ranked among the top 10 Phillies prospects in the rankings compiled by The Inquirer's Matt Gelb and Bob Brookover and the Daily News' David Murphy.
No. 1 is 6-foot-5, 250-pound Trevor May, who will be 23 in September. May was 10-8 with a 3.63 ERA and led the Florida State League with 208 strikeouts. He earned the Paul Owens Award as the best pitcher in the minor- league system.
No. 5 on the ranking is 6-6, 225-pound Jonathan Pettibone, who will turn 22 in July. He was 10-11 with a 2.96 ERA and led the Florida State League with 1611/3 innings pitched.
At No. 9 is 6-4, 230-pound Julio Rodriguez, who will turn 22 in August. Not considered the hardest thrower, Rodriguez nevertheless had the best season, going 16-7 with a 2.76 ERA and leading the Florida State League in wins.
(Actually there were four aces, but righthander Brody Colvin, ranked No. 4, will begin the season again at Clearwater.)
"From what those three have done, they deserve to be here," said Steve Noworyta, the Phillies' assistant director for player development.
All three were drafted in 2008. Pettibone was selected between the third and fourth rounds. May was a fourth-round choice and Rodriguez an eighth-round pick.
"We were all drafted together and have gone through each step together," Pettibone said during Tuesday's media day, which was followed in the evening by an exhibition game against triple-A Lehigh Valley. "We're pretty good friends on and off the field and it is fun coming out here, competing with each other."
There is a healthy competition. "We push each other to one-up each other," Pettibone said.
While May throws the most smoke at hitters, he has expanded his pitching arsenal since last season. Where he already threw a four-seam fastball, curveball, and change-up, he has added a sinker and slider.
"I have always been a strikeout guy, but a fastball strikeout guy," May said. "I have always had off-speed stuff, but now I am able to command it."
Being able to command a variety of pitches is what separates the pitchers on all different levels.
Playing for the same manager should help the continuity of all three. Dusty Wathan, who was the manager last season at Clearwater, now holds the same position at Reading. He replaces Mark Parent, who is the bench coach of the Chicago White Sox.
Wathan said Pettibone can command both sides of the plate. "He is really a polished guy and he looks like a major- league pitcher out there," Wathan said.
May has altered his pitching style with positive results.
"His big problem originally was that he was up in the zone a lot," Wathan said. "He realized he could have success down in the zone and it has been a major adjustment."
As for Rodriguez?
"His velocity isn't overpowering, but he gets by on deception and keeps getting hitters out," Wathan said.
Noworyta said it probably isn't realistic to expect any of the three to help the Phillies this year. What Noworyta and the organization are hoping is that the three can duplicate their success of last season at a higher level.
If that happens, all three would be one step closer to arriving at their desired destination.
Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225, firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Twitter @sjnard.