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The Phillies Have a Control Freak, and That's Okay

Thomas Eshelman wasn't the most important or even second-most important 'name' in the Phillies' trade with Houston back in December, but... come on, look at that walk rate.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

You know the off-season has grown long and weary when you start searching for clips of Quad Cities River Bandits games, but there I was a few weeks ago attempting to track down some decent footage of new Phillies right-hander Thomas Eshelman, acquired back in December from Houston in the trade that sent closer Ken Giles to the Lone Star State.

It was grainy and blurry at best, and the camera angles weren't great in the first game I checked out. In the other contest, the camera was too far away. But it's the Midwest League, so what did I really expect, anyway? The visuals will hopefully become more readily available as time goes on.

Sure, Giles was the most important name in that trade, and after that you could probably look to Mark Appel, as he vaulted into many of the Phillies' top ten prospect lists in various publications. Heck, Vincent Velasquez is more well-known than Eshelman at this point.

Yet there is something unique about Eshelman, and it relates to a certain section of the statistics he posted at Cal State Fullerton. To say that Eshelman has 80-level command would probably be an understatement. In his freshman season, Eshelman struck out 83 and walked three. He had a down year in his sophomore season, walking eight. And my goodness, the horror of his junior season when he walked seven batters.

Yes, Eshelman walked 18 batters in 376 innings in his three years in college, finishing with a 17.83 K/BB rate. Many good Major League starters manage to walk 18 batters in about a month and a half.

He doesn't have overpowering stuff, so his success will rely on whether or not he can place his pitches the way he did in college. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he'll be working this year to improve upon his curveball and change-up, though the curveball has come a long way in the last couple of years.

The Phillies will certainly be watching Eshelman's pitch count and his workload. His 2015 featured a regional game against Arizona State at the end of May that saw him fire 143 pitches. Of course, the perfectionist Eshelman is, he threw 103 of those for strikes. Many other starts featured Eshelman as the team's workhorse.

It's exactly the type of stuff you don't want to see a pitcher face in college, but it happens. There's nothing the Phillies can do but see how he reacts, though it seems there were no ill effects. Eshelman ended up throwing 10 1/3 innings in four minor league starts for the Astros at the end of the year, and he was then promptly shut down, as he should have been.

There's the ever-delicate balance of "how soon is too soon" for a pitcher of his age. You'd imagine the Phillies will start him in Clearwater, but an advancement to Reading doesn't seem out of the question mid-season if he dominates Hi-A batters. To be frank, he should. His true test will come in Reading, and if that does happen this season, that means things went pretty well for him in Clearwater.

Eshelman's ceiling is likely nothing more than a mid-rotation starter, but there's nothing wrong with that. Guys like Eshelman, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin can save an organization from going out and wasting millions on the Adam Eatons and Freddy Garcias of the world. Been there, done that.

He's probably not the next Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine, guys who survived on locating pitches without having the 98 MPH fastball. But there's a reason the Astros felt comfortable taking the right-hander 46th overall last June. This type of command and precision can be hard to find.

Eshelman may not be the most well-known of the players coming over in the Giles trade, but everybody needs a favorite prospect not in the top ten to obsess over every now and again. Why not go with the control freak?