Phillies

Pitcher Tom Eshelman happy with move to Phillies organization, NL

Pitcher Tom Eshelman happy with move to Phillies organization, NL

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New Phillies prospect Tom Eshelman was almost in a situation where he needed to have a shopping receipt handy.

The Clearwater Threshers' starting pitcher was property of the Houston Astros after the 2015 June draft and through some of the offseason, but a pre-Christmas trade saw the righty, along with pitchers Vincent Velasquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz, join the Phillies organization in a deal for pitcher Ken Giles.

The trade was nearly an untimely one that would have potentially had Eshelman returning Christmas gifts after Santa arrived to his Southern California home.

“It was weird. It was a week before Christmas. I was happy it happened before that because I was about to buy a bunch of Astros stuff for my family for Christmas,” said Eshelman, who grew up in Carlsbad.

“The process of (the trade) was interesting. I found out through Twitter on a Wednesday. I saw my name published that I was in a trade, but it wasn’t official. It was finalized on Saturday, so I had Thursday and Friday to kind of sit and dwell on it.”

Eshelman, 21, enjoyed being traded to the Phillies. He knew fellow Threshers pitchers Joey DeNato and Matt Imhof from back home, but few more other than Reading shortstop J.P. Crawford, also a Californian.

Eshelman, DeNato, Imhof and the rest of Clearwater’s pitching staff are an active part of the offense, learning plays and signs because they will eventually have to swing the bat if they have they are promoted to the next level in the organization.

“We have to bunt, learn how to steal, run the bases. I think in the National League you learn how to be an all-around baseball player," Eshelman said. "I like that. You have to understand the game more and know what the other team’s going to do at a certain time because you know the offensive side. You really are learning from all different aspects in the National League.

“It makes the game more interesting as a player, learning how to help yourself out. If you don’t, sometimes that can be the ballgame.”

And how are those hitting skills?

“I can bunt,” Eshelman said laughing. “I’m sure that first live at-bat will look like 105 (mph). I think my last at-bat was in June of my senior year of high school.”

However, Eshelman’s work at the plate isn’t what will get him moved up the organization with a final destination possibly at Citizens Bank Park. It will be his work around the plate and on the black, getting ahead of batters and doing what he does best.

Throw strikes.

In eight starts this season, he is 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA. He has 47 strikeouts and just 11 walks in 45⅓ innings.

Eshelman was a standout pitcher at Cal State-Fullerton, where he went 28-11 with a 1.65 ERA in 52 games and led the team to last year’s College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

He started and dominated Game 4 of the CWS against Vanderbilt and National Pitcher of the Year Carson Fulmer, who was drafted eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox last June.

Eshelman was better than Fulmer that Sunday night, recording eight strikeouts and taking a 3-0 shutout two outs into the sixth inning before a lightning strike postponed the game until Monday. The Commodores rallied, finally winning 4-3 on a walk-off homer to send Cal State-Fullerton into the losers’ bracket.

Eshelman’s most eye-popping stat in college was his pinpoint accuracy. He had 321 strikeouts while walking just 18 in 376⅓ innings pitched during his three-year career with the Titans.

He said his coaching in college led to the outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“It was more of a mentality thing that the Fullerton coaches had," said Eshelman, who ironically enough walked the first FSL batter he faced in April on four pitches. "It was ‘Go after the guys, don’t let them hit it.’ I walked some in high school, and I’ve walked more (in the Florida State League) than in my life. But I just keep learning and try to be a better pitcher day in and day out.

“I got that out of the way.”

Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz said control like Eshelman possesses — beyond excellent for most of his career — can occasionally be troublesome.

“When you’re around the plate, guys get more aggressive because they know you’re going to be around the plate more," Fultz said. "Sometimes you have to learn to pitch out of the zone a bit."

A former Phillies reliever, Fultz said it is essential for the strike-throwing Eshelman to work ahead in the count.

“His stuff is good, but it’s not dominating, so he has to command the ball," Fultz said. "When he faces good hitters and goes down 2-0, 3-1 in the count, they can do some damage. His control is really good, but I want to see him be more aggressive earlier in the count.

“He’s good enough to where I can see him pitch to corners instead of halves of the plate. It’s just developing that and being more consistent.”

Eshelman, who was drafted two picks in front of teammate Scott Kingery, has never been to Philadelphia but loves the club, attitude and style of baseball played by the Phillies.

“This is a great organization to be a part of,” Eshelman said. “Everyone’s super likable, and it’s hard-nosed baseball, which is what I like.”

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies