Salisbury Press

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pair of pitchers moves up the ranks

Thursday, August 31, 2017 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

Coming into the season, Tom Eshelman was a good pitching prospect for the Phillies, but he was overshadowed by pitchers like Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Nick Pivetta.

For pitcher Jose Taveras, he was among the group of top pitching prospects, but he was in the lower levels of the minors and thought to be at least a couple, if not three years away from reaching the majors.

Things changed for both pitchers in 2017. Eshelman is now among the elite group of pitching prospects, while Taveras moved through the organization at a pace faster than anyone expected.

Eshelman’s season started at Double-A Reading.

It was thought that with a good start, he might reach Triple-A somewhere around the All-Star Break in mid-July. Instead, a good start and other pitchers being needed at the major league level opened a spot for him with the IronPigs earlier than anticipated and he made his Triple-A debut on May 8.

Initially, it was thought that he might wind up back at Reading after a start or two, but eight shutout innings in his debut, followed by seven innings allowing just two unearned runs in game two cemented his stay with the IronPigs.

“He’s one of those guys who had an opportunity and he took advantage of it,” said manager Dusty Wathan. “Even had he spent the entire season at Reading, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing, but he showed that he had progressed enough to be here and be a step away from the majors.”

In 17 starts with Lehigh Valley, Eshelman is 9-3 with an impressive 2.37 ERA, good enough for second in the International League. Between Reading and Lehigh Valley, Eshelman is a combined 12-3 with a 2.52 ERA.

For Taveras, the season started at High-A Clearwater, a step under Reading. He was coming off a season in which he led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts and posted a 3.28 ERA for the Lakewood BlueClaws. Clearwater was the natural next step and he made 16 starts for the Threshers, going 6-4 with a 2.38 ERA.

When the Phillies decided they needed a pitcher to move up to Reading, Taveras was ready to try Double-A ball. He made just two starts for Reading when necessity struck again and he was a member of the IronPigs, making his Triple-A debut August 1. Like Eshelman, he pitched well enough to stick and has a 1.54 ERA in six starts at Lehigh Valley.

“We didn’t really see Jose moving up to Triple-A this quickly,” said Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan. “We thought he might make it to Reading for a few starts, but the plan wasn’t to push him this hard. It was one of those situations where we came into the season with one plan and things changed, so we had to adjust those plans and it worked out well for us.”

Neither pitcher is likely to be a September call-up for the Phillies. Eshelman is having his innings limited at Lehigh Valley to not overdo his workload this season, and Taveras likely has risen as high as he’s going to in 2017. Eshelman will be in the

discussion for a rotation spot next spring, although it’s likely he returns to Lehigh Valley when the season opens. Taveras would figure to be back at Lehigh Valley as well, waiting his shot at the majors next season.

“I think it would be a little ambitious to figure on either of them on the Opening Day roster in Philadelphia, but this season shows, that you just never know,” said Jordan. “Depending how things play out over the winter and how they would throw in camp next year, our discussions could change.

“The good thing to know is that they both are right there for us and we can figure on them being a part of our rotation sooner rather than later. Neither pitcher is looked at as being a guy for years down the road anymore. They’ve both put themselves in the discussions for the near future.”