Tom Eshelman

With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs

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With or without Arrieta, Phillies have rotation depth, competition for jobs

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Phillies might not have that classic No. 1 starting pitcher that opponents fear, but they do have significant rotation depth.

Aaron Nola has been tabbed as the opening day starter (see story). After him, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will slot in somewhere and Nick Pivetta might have an edge on the rest of the pack for a spot in the rotation. All of this is subject to change, of course, but for the time being, there might be one opening in the rotation — and none if Jake Arrieta decides that he wants to be a Phillie.

The most realistic candidates to fill out the rotation are Zach Eflin, who is healthy and firing, and Ben Lively, but there are plenty more that will get a look, including Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison, Drew Anderson and Tom Eshelman. Beyond that group, the Phils still have a number of starter prospects in camp, including Jose Taveras, Enyel De Los Santos, Cole Irvin, Brandon Leibrandt, Ranger Suarez and Franklyn Kilome. The organization will have no trouble stocking its Triple A and Double A rotations with prospects — and some tough decisions will have to be made on who goes where.

Lively kicked off his candidacy for a spot in the big-league rotation with two scoreless innings against the the Yankees on Monday night. The right-hander, who turns 26 next week, allowed just one hit and struck out three. He did not walk a batter.

Lively made his big-league debut last season and pitched to a 4.26 ERA in 15 starts. He is not a big strikeout guy — he struck out just 5.3 batters per nine innings — but has a bulldog quality that serves him well on the mound. He’s ready to compete for a spot in the rotation.

“Oh, yeah, everyone knows it’s a competition,” he said. “It’s fun to see everyone battle and compete. It’s awesome. It makes everyone better.”

Lively said he realized the importance of getting ahead of hitters and throwing inside last season. He said he learned to slow the game down, pitch to his strengths and not let “the big guys beat you.” He succeeded there on Monday night. One of his strikeouts came against Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 homers last season en route to winning the National League MVP award.

Eshelman also had a nice outing with two scoreless innings. He struck out two and walked none. Eshelman’s control is exceptional. He walked 1.1 batters per nine in 150 innings at Double A and Triple A last season and was the Phillies’ minor-league pitcher of the year. Eshelman is not on the 40-man roster. He lines up to return to Triple A, but could be a quick call-up if a need arises.

The Phillies lost to the Yankees, 4-3, on a solo homer by Miguel Andujar against Suarez in the bottom of the ninth.

Down to their last strike, the Phils tied the game at 3-3 on a solo homer by Scott Kingery in the top of the inning.

Eickhoff will make his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday against the Tigers. Velasquez will start Wednesday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

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Phillies prospect Mark Appel stepping away from baseball

Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall pick acquired by the Phillies from the Astros in the Ken Giles trade, is stepping away from baseball.

Four months after being removed from the Phils' 40-man roster, Appel is taking an "indefinite break."

"I don't know what the future holds. I'm pursuing other things, but also trying to become a healthy human," Appel told Bleacher Report.

"I'm 26, I have a Stanford degree, I have many interests beyond baseball, which I still love, but I have a lot of things I care about. I enjoy challenging my mind. My last four years in baseball have challenged my mind."

Appel's entire professional career has been a struggle. In five minor-league seasons, he had a 5.06 ERA and 1.52 WHIP, allowing nearly 10 hits per nine innings.

While he was in the Phillies' system, strike-throwing was a huge issue. In 122⅓ innings over two seasons on the Phils' farm, he walked 74 and struck out 94.

Appel, who missed most of 2016 after requiring elbow surgery, had consistent problems going deep into games, something that didn't sit well with an organization that has become increasingly focused on economy of pitches.

The Phillies acquired Appel from Houston on Dec. 12, 2015 along with Vince Velasquez, Tom Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz in exchange for Giles. At the time, it looked like a shrewd move for the Phils. Unfortunately, two years later, Appel is out of baseball and Velasquez is still very much a question mark, both from a health and efficiency standpoint.

As for Giles, he's a World Series champion. He pitched poorly in the playoffs but did have a 2.30 ERA with 34 saves in the regular season.

The Phillies pushed to acquire Appel in the Giles trade because of concerns over Velasquez's health history, per sources. The initial return package included Velasquez and young outfielder Derek Fisher, but because of the concerns with Velasquez, the Phils chose to fortify their return with more pitching. Appel was a prime change-of-scenery candidate, but the Phils swung and missed.

In two seasons with the Phillies, Velasquez has been limited to just 39 starts, going 10-13 with a 4.48 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He's had three stints on the disabled list and was shut down at the end of the 2016 season.

Eshelman has progressed through the Phils' farm system and could end up making some starts in the majors in 2018. Last season, he went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts, 18 of which came at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Eshelman, whose calling card is his control, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings.

As for Appel, barring a surprise comeback, he will go down as one of the biggest busts in recent history. To his credit, he seems to be mentally moving past that.

On deck? Phillies' Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman receive honors in future home

On deck? Phillies' Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman receive honors in future home

Sixteen players made their major-league debut with the Phillies this season. More players will come as the 2018 season unfolds.

Scott Kingery and Tom Eshelman will likely be among them.

Kingery and Eshelman were at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday to be honored as this year's winners of the Paul Owens Award for top position player and pitcher in the Phils' minor-league system.

Kingery, a 23-year-old second baseman from the Phoenix area, batted .304 with 29 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers and 29 stolen bases between Double A and Triple A.

Eshelman, a 23-year-old right-hander from the San Diego area, went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA and an 0.97 WHIP in 23 starts between Double A and Triple A. In 150 innings, he struck out 102 and walked just 18.

Prior to being honored on the field before Tuesday night's game, both players stopped by the Phillies clubhouse. They were surrounded by many familiar faces, former teammates who'd made the jump from the minors to the majors this season. It affirmed for Kingery and Eshelman just how close they are to reaching their major-league dreams.

"Obviously it’s just one step away," Kingery said. "And every time you see one of your good friends you’ve played with for the whole season make that step up and start doing well, it gives you a little bit of confidence, knowing that, 'Hey, I was playing with these guys yesterday and now they’re making their big-league debuts,' so it does."

Eshelman had a front-row seat for Rhys Hoskins' heroics in Lehigh Valley. Hoskins was the International League MVP and Rookie of the Year this season, and has come to the majors and stroked 18 homers in a little more than a month.

"Rhys is kind of a hometown hero in my town," Eshelman said. "I’ve been getting a lot of text messages and direct messages on Instagram, like, ‘Hey, did you play with this guy?’ It was fun to watch him in Triple A and Double A last year, but to watch him up here doing what he’s doing, it’s incredible. All of these guys. They’re all kind of chipping in. It’s cool to see the success that they’ve had."

Kingery and Eshelman were both selected in the second round of the 2015 draft. Kingery, a University of Arizona product, went 48th overall to the Phillies. Eshelman, a strike-throwing machine out of Cal State Fullerton, was selected by the Houston Astros two picks ahead of Kingery.

The Phillies acquired Eshelman in general manager Matt Klentak's first big trade, the one that sent Ken Giles to the Houston Astros in December 2015. Eshelman came over to the Phils in a package that included headline pitchers Vince Velasquez and Mark Appel. Velasquez has struggled with injury and inconsistency in his two seasons in Philadelphia and Appel has had similar problems in the minors.

Eshelman does not possess eye-popping, radar-gun-wowing stuff, but he throws quality strikes and limits walks. Basically, he pitches.

"He's the best executor of pitches that we have in the system," director of player development Joe Jordan said. "He might not have the type of weapons that get you talked about a lot, but his stuff is plenty good to pitch in the major leagues. He's got four or five pitches and he can use them all. He's great at reading swings. He's smart enough to know when a hitter is sitting soft and elevate a fastball and it will look 94 when it might be 90-91."

Eshelman likely will be invited to big-league camp in February and could make the jump to the majors next season.

"This is an organization on the rise and I’m happy to be a part of it," he said.

Kingery played well enough this season that he could have earned a look in the majors this month, but the Phillies' front office is trying to retain as many young players as possible. Kingery does not need to be protected on the 40-man roster this winter and that will allow the Phillies to add a different prospect to the roster and protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Kingery will be in big-league camp next spring — he was a standout in big-league camp this spring — and could very well be ready for the majors on opening day. That, however, does not mean he will be there. The Phils could look to push his potential free agency back to after the 2024 season by keeping him in the minors for a few weeks at the start of next season. That might not make fans happy, but it makes baseball sense.

The Phils are expected to shop second baseman Cesar Hernandez this winter to clear a spot for Kingery. Ditto shortstop Freddy Galvis as it relates to J.P. Crawford.

"Personally I think I’ll try to block most of that out," Kingery said. "I know it’s probably going to be tough. I’ll probably see some of it. I’m just going to do what I can this offseason to give myself the best shot to come into spring training and have a good year."