The Phillies have been busy restocking their farm system through trades since last summer, when former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. swapped ace Cole Hamels for a haul of top prospects that included Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro. Amaro has since stepped down, but Philly kept the plan in place, dealing reliever Ken Giles to Houston last month in a deal that nabbed two top pitching prospects in former No. 1 overall Draft pick Mark Appel and a young righty, Thomas Eshelman.
Appel is as big a name as there is in the Minors -- he was the first selection in the 2013 Draft -- but Eshelman has only 10 1/3 professional innings under his belt since getting drafted last June. A 21-year-old righty, Eshelman was ranked as Houston's No. 13 prospect at the time of the deal on Dec. 12, and MLB.com has him at the same spot among Phillies farmhands.
Eshelman set program records at Cal State Fullerton with his uncanny control; in 2015, he ranked fourth in the nation in strikeouts (139) and walked just four batters in 19 games, leading the Titans to the College World Series. He left town with the lowest career ERA in school history, 1.65, and then received a $1.1 million signing bonus from the Astros as the No. 46 overall pick.
Eshelman appeared in just four games last season with the Astros, all at Class A and Rookie-level, and hardly had time to meet his teammates before getting shipped east.
"Thanks to my teammates, coaches, and trainers in the Astros organization, it was a fun short stint," he tweeted after the trade. "Looking forward to my new opportunity!!"
We caught up with the righty as he prepares for his first full Minor League campaign.
MiLB.com: How's the offseason going? You were traded a few weeks ago, what's it been like since?
Thomas Eshelman: It's my first real time off from a season -- I've been playing year-round since I was 12, so it's more now about understanding what I need to do and deal with my pace before heading out [to Spring Training] in February. It's been good so far -- I've been working out every day and started throwing a few weeks ago. I'm getting the feeling back. I wanted to key in on the mental side of the game, just every aspect needs improvement and that's how baseball is -- the moment you think you have it figured out it is the moment you get exploited.
MiLB.com: Take me back to the trade. How did you find out you'd been traded to Philadelphia?
Eshelman: I found out about it through Twitter, actually. I was sitting in a bullpen area just hanging out with some pitchers and guys with the Astros and they said, "There's a trade and there's a player to be named later." One of them said to the other, "What if it's one of us?" But we all said, "No shot."
And then that night I went home and looked at Twitter to see if it went through, and my name came up. I thought, "Oh, jeez, here we go." I got a call from my agent and it got cleared on Saturday -- the trade went through. Those three days in between were kind of interesting, but it all works out for a reason. I'm glad to be part of the Phillies now; the Astros gave me a chance, so it's the best of both worlds. I'm still playing baseball for a job, so life's not too bad.
MiLB.com: Did the Phillies talk to you and have you change your workouts or anything?
Eshelman: I got a call from the Astros saying I got traded to the Phillies. [Phillies general manager Matt Klentak] called me right after and said "Hey, welcome to the Phillies." He said "It's probably in your best interest to meet some people and get acclimated to our Spring Training area and understand what's expected," and I said, "Yeah, that's a great idea -- I was thinking about that before we talked.' And then I got a call from their strength and conditioning coach, and he said, "Hey, we'll send you the workout stuff." It's mostly different tests -- when you go to Spring Training as far as conditioning, the Phillies' conditioning is different from the Astros. But my offseason approach didn't change -- I'm doing good stuff here in San Diego and just added some more stuff on top of it.
MiLB.com: You only pitched in four games at lower levels, but what was last season like for you?
Eshelman: It's more of like a different -- I can't explain it, but it was just a good thing to get my feet wet like you said and kind of roll with it. I'm excited to get back out there and put up some better number. I know I only pitched about 12 innings, but it was good to experience and I understand what I need to do to succeed.
MiLB.com: Take me back to being drafted. I saw something where you basically said you heard about it from a coach in a text message. Is that right?
Eshelman: We had just beaten Louisville to go to Omaha and we were in a circle after the game talking about what we needed to do, and me and my strength coach were looking at the Draft tracker the whole night. We were playing that night and right when the game got over, as we celebrated, I got drafted right around the last out. My coach came over to me with his phone and a text from his wife, "Esh got drafted 46th overall." It was pretty special, the whole night was emotions everywhere. It's something I worked for my whole life. To finally say I've been drafted and go to Omaha the same day is pretty special. But now I have to work harder to get to the Majors.
MiLB.com: You had pretty incredible numbers and control at Cal State Fullerton. What was your experience like there?
Eshelman: It was fun, it was a school that's not an SEC school, where you get handed gear and lots of fans come to games. You travel to those schools and play in front of their fans and that's the thing you go there for. That gritty attitude -- get dirty and play hard and it's an underdog type of mentality. To not get recruited out of high school or have scouts looking at me, for me to get that opportunity was truly an honor. And to go in there and get the Friday night job was humbling for me. I went with it, and no matter what you do, you're still expected to act as a Titan, and that's just what I did. If you get hit, you get back up and finish the inning. Bulldog mentality. They taught me that there, how to play the game.
Thomas Eshelman helped Cal State Fullerton to the 2015 College World Series in June. (Mark Theiler/AP)
MiLB.com: If you look back at the Draft, there were analysts who said you had great control but average stuff. Does it bother you to hear that, and what are you doing now to improve?
Eshelman: I mean, I'm just trying to get better. There's so many things I can do to change a pitch, to make it more nasty. It's going to work -- I'll continue trying to get better. Some things I can fix with my grips, and as a pitcher, you need to keep an open mind to get a hitter out at the next level. I have an open mind to other pitchers -- that's one of the biggest things for me to understand, is what do they do to succeed and what can I can do to bring that into my game.
MiLB.com: Is there a pitcher you looked up to or modeled yourself after, growing up?
Eshelman: I watched Jake Peavy a lot actually, when he was with the Padres, maybe around 2006-07, and that's when he won the Cy Young. He was pitching lights out. His mentality on the mound -- he showed a lot of emotion and I have that in terms of a mental approach, so that's what I want to do on the mound. He knows his body and what he can do with his pitches. And he's a character -- I wish I could meet him.
MiLB.com: So were you a Padres fan in general?
Eshelman: Unfortunately (laughs). I'm from about 20 minutes north of San Diego in Carlsbad. It was like any other summer town you've been to -- laid back, surfers, you don't wanna do much. Just hang out at the beach and with friends. Growing up, it was hard -- I was gone on tourneys and working out, and all my friends were at the beach. It's something that I look back and I'm glad I did it. I wouldn't be in this position now if I was at the beach. That's the type of sacrifice you have to make to have success, and I'm glad my parents pushed me. They let me do what I wanted to do and backed off when they needed to.
MiLB.com: So did you surf at all growing up?
Eshelman: I surfed, I tried to.
MiLB.com: Were you any good?
Eshelman: I'm a red-headed white guy, 6-foot-4, so I mean, I try. It's fun to be out there, honestly. And the guys at the beach are super cool -- they'll give you pointers, but it's just cool. Me and my friend used to go out six in the morning in the summer. Glassy water, smooth waves -- it was perfect. In Florida [at Phillies Spring Training], you can't surf. Or, I guess you can, but there's sharks.
MiLB.com: The Phillies have rebuilt their organization with a lot of young prospects, yourself included. What's it like to join a team that has a core of young players like that?
Eshelman: It's fun -- I went from team with a bunch of young talent to a team acquiring young talent. To have my name as part of those prospects and kids is fun. To be apart of an organization that sees me as a piece of the puzzle, and especially to be apart of an organization like Philadelphia is kind of cool. It's a big market team, a lot of history. I watched Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz for years, so it's funny I'm apart of that organization now.
MiLB.com: You were only at Quad Cities for two starts, but how fun was it to get up there and debut?
Eshelman: It was a great team, they were the first team to get to 80 wins in baseball, and that's a credit to the coaching staff there. Those guys did an unbelievable job. Coming from Rookie ball to Quad Cities, it was a different atmosphere. They acted like big leaguers and were very professional. I mean, they were still doing infield-outfield and they had 80 wins. They stuck to their process, and that's a credit to their coaching staff. Plus, it was a really sweet ballpark to play in.
MiLB.com: You got a pretty nice signing bonus after the Draft, did you go out and buy anything fun?
Eshelman: (laughs) I told everyone, "I'm gonna keep my truck!" It's a 2002 Ford Ranger. And once I got back from Quads, the second week I'm home driving it, it starts to steam up for me. Now it won't even start. So I went out and bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I love it, it's a really sweet car, real comfortable. It's nothing too flashy, I wanted to get the most out of my buck. But I'm not spending anything else, that's all I wanted and needed, and after that, everything else is an investment. I'm trying to be smart with it.
MiLB.com: Any favorite pregame meals or routines you stick to on days you pitch?
Eshelman: I don't swear by any food. I like to kick back and take showers. Showers are a big one -- before I head out onto the field, you'll see me 30 minutes before in the shower. That's one of my big things.