Jonathan Pettibone spent the last part of the 2012 season with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, so it's no surprise that he's starting back at Lehigh Valley to open this season. The 6'5" left-hander was drafted by the Phillies in the third round of the 2008 Draft, even though he had a scholarship offer to attend USC in the fall. The Trojans had to know that there was the possibility that Pettibone would turn pro, but they probably didn't count on a team having someone like Cole Hamels help to persuade him to pass on the scholarship.
"He just told me to really think about things and told me how great the organization was to be a part of," said Pettibone. "I was surprised by the call, but it really was a great chance to talk about the organization and it definitely helped to persuade me."
Last season was the first time that Pettibone didn't spend a full season at one level. Up until his promotion to Lehigh Valley, Pettibone had spent a season at each level of the Phillies minor league organization. In seven Triple-A starts last season, Pettibone held hitters to a .204 average and didn't allow a home run. That experience has given Pettibone a bit of a comfort level to start the 2013 season.
"Absolutely it helped to be up here for a little. I was able to get a few starts under my belt and kind of know what to expect coming into this year and I'm ready to get going," said Pettibone.
Manager Dave Brundage has put Pettibone into the second slot in the pitching rotation, right behind Tyler Cloyd, who got to make his major league debut last season. Having spent the early part of spring training in big league camp and now starting the season at Lehigh Valley has helped to make Pettibone realize just how close he is to his dream of pitching in the major leagues.
"My first taste of big league camp went well and I got to see how some of those pitchers - especially the starters - go about their business and seeing what they do. Then down in minor league camp, I was working with Burris [new IronPigs pitching coach Ray Burris] during my bullpens, so it was great."
Pettibone was part of the vaunted "Baby Aces" pitchers of a couple seasons ago and is now just one of two remaining pitchers from that squad. Julio Rodriguez, Trevor May and Jarred Cosart have all been traded and Brody Colvin hasn't put up the numbers that were expected of him over the past couple of seasons.
"I never put a whole lot of stock into all of that. I mean it was nice and I was glad to be a part of something like that, but things just don't always turn out how you expect them to and that's a great example. Now, some of those guys aren't here and there are guys like Cloyd who have already been in the majors and there are other guys from other organizations here now, so you just take it for what it's worth," explained Pettibone.
Last season, Pettibone was on a Lehigh Valley team that had a number of veteran-type players, but things have changed at Lehigh Valley this season. Now, the IronPigs are stocked with a number of prospects up and down the roster.
"It was great to have some veteran guys around last year, but now, with all of the younger guys here, it's nice, too. I'm more familiar with a lot of these guys, because I've come up through the system with them," said Pettibone.
Realizing that he's at the highest level of the minor league system has been a key for Pettibone. He is potentially just one sore arm away from being a major leaguer, just like rotation mate Tyler Cloyd was last season. "You just have to stay ready. You never know what's going to happen and this is where they usually pull from, so literally, your next start could be in the majors," said Pettibone.