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.
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.”