Tom Eshelman

Vince Velasquez is the last man standing from Matt Klentak's first big trade with Tom Eshelman dealt to O's

Vince Velasquez is the last man standing from Matt Klentak's first big trade with Tom Eshelman dealt to O's

It’s all on Vince Velasquez's shoulders now.

Vinny Velo is the last man standing from Matt Klentak’s first big trade as Phillies general manager. The power-armed right-hander took over that distinction Monday when the Phillies peddled pitcher Tom Eshelman to the Baltimore Orioles Monday in exchange for $1 million in international signing bonus money.

The Phillies acquired Velasquez and Eshelman, along with pitchers Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz, from the Houston Astros in exchange for reliever Ken Giles and minor-league infielder Jonathan Arauz in December 2015.

Giles was coming off a big season as Phillies closer and was considered a luxury for a rebuilding team. Klentak packaged him and Jonathan Arauz and sent them to the rising Astros for five pitchers.

Oberholtzer pitched in the rotation and out of the bullpen and was waived in August of his first season with the Phils.

Harold Arauz briefly reached Triple A with the Phillies and mostly struggled at Double A. He became a minor-league free agent after last season and is currently pitching to a 6.56 ERA in the Cardinals’ system.

Appel was the lottery ticket in the deal, a two-time first-round draft pick who went No. 1 overall in 2013. The Phils hoped a move from Houston to Philadelphia would unlock his huge potential. It didn’t. He struggled with injury and ineffectiveness and left the game during the 2017 season.

Not blessed with overpowering stuff, Eshelman was a legendary strike thrower at Cal State Fullerton and he initially shined in the Phillies’ system. He won the Paul Owens Award as the organization’s top minor-league pitcher in 2017 when he went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts at Double A and Triple A.

Eshelman was invited to big-league camp in the spring of 2018, but he struggled during the regular season. He opened this season at Double A and made his last four starts at Triple A, allowing just eight runs in 26 innings.

The Phillies still might end up turning Eshelman into something in the future with that extra international money.

As for the Houston side of that initial trade, Giles was part of an Astros team that won the World Series in 2017. He had 34 saves for that club. He is now with Toronto and pitching quite well. It’s not out of the question that the Phillies look to reacquire him in the coming weeks as they seek bullpen help.

Jonathan Arauz, still just 20, remains in the low minors with the Astros.

From a Phillies perspective, Velasquez was always the centerpiece of that initial trade with Houston. He is in his fourth season in the majors with the Phils. He was inconsistent in three seasons as a starter and is now filling an important role in the bullpen.

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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

BOX SCORE

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.

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