The Phillies have arguably the best pitching in all of baseball. Between Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, their group of aces in unmatched. But, in the Phillies' farm system exists another group of aces: the "Baby Aces".
The Baby Aces are a collection of top Phillies' prospects, headed by right-handers Trevor May and Jonathan Pettibone. In 2011, the original group of "Baby Aces" were May, Jarred Cosart (who was traded to the Astros for Hunter Pence) and Brody Colvin, but thanks to impressive performances in 2011 by Pettibone, Julio Rodriguez and Jesse Biddle, the number of Aces has expanded to five.
In this slideshow, each of the five aces will be evaluated on their past and their future.
Bryan Sheehan is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials.
2011 Stats: 10-8, 3.63ERA, 308Ks in Class A+ Clearwater
2012 Baseball America Rank: #1 prospect in Phillies' system
May gained huge buzz within the organization last year, setting a club record for strikeouts in Clearwater and winning the 2011 Paul Owens Award for best pitcher in the Phillies' system. His 208 punchouts in 151.1 innings gives him a SO/9 of 12.37, which is extremely impressive (Cliff Lee had a SO/9 of 9.21 in 2011), and his overall dominance against opposing hitters showed in his .221 BAA.
His 6'5", 215lb frame allows him to put good velocity on his fastball, which sits at about 93-95 mph. If May can work on his fastball control it will become a solid out pitch, and his strikeout totals might jump even higher.
In 2012, May will make the jump to Class AA Reading, and if he can mirror last year's success don't rule out a Major League debut in 2013. He's only 22, so he has time to develop into a top-of-the-rotation guy in a few years.
2011 Stats: 10-11, 2.96 ERA, 115 Ks in Class A+ Clearwater
2012 Baseball America Rank: #4 in the Phillies' system
Unlike May, Pettibone's game isn't about overpowering the hitter; his biggest asset is his control. In 2011, at age 20, his WHIP was a minuscule 1.13, and in 161 innings Pettibone only allowed 34 walks. Baseball America also named him as the pitcher with the "best control" in the organization, and, according to Pettibone in an interview for PhightingOn.com, "control has always been a key to [his] success".
"I'm a strong believer of not giving away free bases, as well as making [opposing hitters] put the ball into play. I enjoy going deep into games, so with forcing the hitter to make contact early in the count gives me the opportunity to do so."
Since Pettibone already has great control, the Phillies will be pushing him to improve his velocity. Clocked at around 90-94 mph in 2011, Pettibone's 4-seam fastball can become a deadly weapon if he can bring it up to the 96mph range. Like May, he'll (most likely) be starting 2012 in Reading, and will probably break the MLB roster in 2013.
2011 Stats: 16-7, 2.76 ERA, 168 Ks in Class A+ Clearwater
Baseball America Rank: Not Ranked
It was really hard to call Rodriguez the third best of the Baby Aces. On one hand, he is not mentioned at all by Baseball America in their organizational ranking, and there is very little buzz about him compared to other prospects. On the other hand, his numbers are so consistently dominant that it was impossible not to give him this spot.
Last year in Clearwater, Rodriguez led the Florida State League with 16 wins was second in ERA (2.76) innings pitched (156.2) WHIP (1.01) and strikeouts (168) among starters. His WHIP was only .01 off the league lead, and the leaders in strikeouts and innings pitched were Trevor May and Jon Pettibone, respectively. His best pitch is a looping 12-6 curve that looks like it came out of a video game and makes hitters look downright foolish.
So what's wrong with the 21 year old Rodriguez? For one, reports on his fastball are so varied (some list it at low-mid 80s while others have it clocked as high as 92) that it's hard to get the real scoop on him. His control is also an issue, as he gave up 56 walks and plunked 13 batters in 2011.
Expect to see him join the rest of the aces at Reading next season, and expect to see his name emerge in the prospect conversation if he keeps winning.
2011 Stats: 3-8, 4.71 ERA, 78 Ks with Class A+ Clearwater
Baseball America Ranking: #8
If it weren't for a back injury that landed Colvin on the DL and is suspected of hampering his performance in 2011, he could have easily taken the number three spot away from Rodriguez on this list. Colvin's 2011 season in Clearwater was anything but solid, as he earned a 4.71 ERA and .289 BAA in 116.2 innings. But, unlike Julio, Brody's status as a Baby Ace hinges not on his stats, but rather on his potential and reports that indicate his possibilities.
Colvin has a live fastball with good late movement and a velocity that hangs around 93mph, but his curveball and changeup are nothing particularly special. His main problem is his control and consistency, as he can go 8 innings and give up just one run in a game and then turn around in the next game four runs on ten hits in five innings.
For those who have only seen Colvin's stats, it is easy to be skeptical about his ability. But many scouting reports indicate that Brody has the skills but just doesn't use them, and at age 21 it wouldn't be too difficult to correct his mistakes and turn him into a solid Major Leaguer down the line.
2011 Stats: 7-8, 2.98 ERA, 124 Ks at Class A Lakewood
Baseball America Rank: #2 in Phillies' system
A hometown kid (Biddle went to highschool at Germantown Friends), Biddle is a year back from the other Baby Aces. He was the Phillies' first round draft pick in 2010 (#27 overall) and he pitched in Lakewood in 2011.
Like the other four Baby Aces, he is tall and lean, at 6'6", 225lb. His fastball sits at around 93mph, and his arsenal also includes a 12-6 curve clocked in the mid 70s and a mid 80s changeup. He was solid in Lakewood last year, posting a 2.98 ERA in 133 innings. He'll most likely start in Clearwater next year, so he won't be with the rest of the Baby Aces, but his status as the 2nd best prospect in the organization according to Baseball America may be an indicator of how much attention and hype he will receive.