Tom Eshelman

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."

Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman win Paul Owens award for Phillies' top prospects

Cheryl Pursell/USA Today Images

Scott Kingery, Tom Eshelman win Paul Owens award for Phillies' top prospects

Phillies fans have long been clamoring for Scott Kingery to join the big leagues, and while that may not happen this year, his play hasn't gone unnoticed.

Kingery and right-handed pitcher Tom Eshelman have been named the Phillies' 2017 Paul Owens award recipients, given to the organization's top minor league player and pitcher.

A white-hot start at Double A quickly earned Kingery a promotion to Lehigh Valley in June. Overall, the second baseman is hitting .304 with 26 homers, 65 RBIs, 29 stolen bases and 103 runs scored in 132 total games. 

The 2015 second-round pick participated in the All-Star Futures Game in July.

"Scott showed the ability to be an impactful everyday player on both sides of the ball, and that is the most exciting thing," said Joe Jordan, the Phillies Director of Player Development. "The power showed up this season, and he wins as many games on the defensive side as the offensive side. That, and his energetic style of play, makes him an exciting young player with a very bright future with the Phillies."

Eshelman, a piece in the Ken Giles trade with Houston, has developed into one of the Phillies' premier pitching prospects, going 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA between Reading and Lehigh Valley. In 150 innings pitched, the 23-year-old has held opponents to a .223 batting average, while leading all Phillies' minor league pitchers in strikeout (102) to walk (18) ratio (5.67). In 23 starts, Eshelman never walked more than one batter per game.

"Tom was a model of consistency for the entire 2017 season," Jordan said. "His ability to execute pitches is truly special and his ability to command the baseball is going to allow him to be a meaningful rotation piece for our major league club going forward."

In 18 Triple A games, Eshelman allowed one run or less in 10 starts, including six scoreless outings, en route to an All-Star bid. His 2.23 ERA in Triple A ranked second in the International League. 

Phillies prospect Tom Eshelman thriving after years of tutelage from older brother

Phillies prospect Tom Eshelman thriving after years of tutelage from older brother

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The brothers were born eight years apart — the older one a basketball junkie who moonlighted for a time as a pitcher, the younger one forever smitten by the summer game.

Growing up in Carlsbad, California, just north of San Diego, the older brother would fire pitches off a cinder-block wall next to the family’s garage – the wall that always had an upright rectangle scrawled upon it, representative of a strike zone.

In time, the younger brother would make use of the same wall. At that point he dreamed of being a shortstop, but eventually, he too gravitated to the mound. And his older sibling — indeed, his only sibling — would see some random Padre or Dodger pitcher on TV and immediately repair to a nearby Little League field, his brother in tow, to see if the kid could master some mechanical quirk of the big leaguer.

Always and forever, the older man serving as his brother’s keeper.

The result being that all these years later, the kid in question — Tom Eshelman — hopes to become a keeper of another kind with the Phillies.

The 22-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA for Triple-A Lehigh Valley — his most recent victory a 12-1 domination of Buffalo on Monday in which he surrendered that lone run on five hits over seven innings, while striking out six. He didn’t walk a batter, but then again, he seldom does; command has always been his calling card.

Before that, he was named International League Player of the Month in May. Before that, he went 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA at Double-A Reading, leading to his promotion on May 8.

And way, way before that, the aforementioned older brother, Sam, helped bring out the best in him.

It should probably come as no surprise that Sam now teaches middle-school English, or that he just completed his first year as the varsity hoops coach at Carlsbad High, the brothers’ alma mater. He said on the phone Tuesday afternoon that his baseball knowledge was “rudimentary” back in the day, and called his work with Tom “an opportunity to experiment around a little bit — teaching and coaching and seeing how different things would work.”

Sam’s interest could almost be described as paternal. But it was not, he insists, Pavlovian.

Which brings us to the shock collar.

Two years ago Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times profiled the younger Eshelman, and mentioned the time Sam looped such a collar around his brother’s neck. Maybe, Foster wrote, that was the reason Tom became such a chronic strike thrower; his brother activated the thing every time he missed the zone.

The reference appeared to be tongue-in-cheek, but on Tuesday both brothers felt compelled to clarify things anyway.

“That story kind of got turned around a little bit,” Tom said before a game against Buffalo was rained out. “The whole bark-collar thing, that wasn’t true.”

Sam called it “a childhood prank between brothers,” a case where they were “just messing around in the back yard, brothers being brothers.”

“That got misrepresented as a training method,” he added, “which it wasn’t.” 

Sam gave up baseball before high school, choosing instead to concentrate on basketball, the same sport the boys’ dad, Dave, had played all the way through junior college. (Dave now runs his own business, while his wife Rosemary is a school administrator.)

Tom, a self-described “rebel,” plotted a different course.

“He was more so committed to just baseball, and he really loved the game,” Sam said. “And he took off running with it.”

But, again, seldom walking anybody. That has been a constant. It’s partially because of Sam’s help, partially because Tom gained a better understanding of his craft while doubling as a catcher in high school, partially because other pitching coaches — a freelance guy named Dominic Johnson in San Diego County, and Jason Dietrich at Cal State-Fullerton — worked with him along the way.

Eshelman issued exactly 18 bases on balls in 376.1 innings over his three seasons at Fullerton, while going 28-11 with a 1.65 ERA and 321 strikeouts. That led the Astros to draft him in the second round in June 2015.

Six months later they sent him to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade, and in his first year in the Phillies organization, he went 9-7 with a 4.25 ERA while splitting time between Clearwater and Reading.

“He wasn’t satisfied with where he was at,” Sam said. “He worked hard to put himself in position to succeed.” 

Tom is now fully healthy, after seeing his 2016 season cut short by an appendectomy. His fastball, clocked in the low 90s, has a little more movement, his slider a little more bite. IronPigs manager Dusty Wathan, who also had the 6-3, 210-pound Eshelman in Double-A last year, added that the young right-hander has a better understanding of the tighter strike zone seen in the high minors, and that he is hiding the ball better during his delivery.

“He breaks more bats than anybody I’ve seen, the last couple years,” Wathan said. “It’s five or six a night, which is impressive. People say he doesn’t strike many guys out, which is true, but if you’re breaking five or six bats a night, they’re not swinging and missing, but they’re definitely not hitting it where they want.”

Eshelman has, in fact, struck out a pedestrian 31 in 45.2 innings.

He has walked just four.

As for Sam, he streams his brother’s games from afar and keeps in touch.

“As much as I can, I try to help him with the mental side of things — just playing the big-brother role,” he said. “It’s all out of love.”

And all with the idea of making him a keeper.