When Tom Eshelman was 12-years-old, he had his first big league experience.
With his older brother Sam — studying broadcast journalism — set to do play-by-play for the Cape Cod League’s Warehem Gatemen, the future second round pick got an opportunity.
“I was in Cooperstown at the time in a 12-year-old tournament and I went over to say hi to [my brother] and the team needed bullpen catchers,” Eshelman said. “I grabbed my stuff, got some gear and I caught. I was catching guys like Ike Davis, he was a first baseman in the big leagues, and he was throwing splits at 89 mph but to me it felt like 105.”
The experience set a spark in Eshelman, who last year starred as the Phillies’ best minor league pitcher and started the Triple-A All-Star Game. In all, the 23-year-old went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA combined between Reading and Lehigh Valley. It was an unexpected revelation of a season for the hurler who not a year earlier was fighting to break a five ERA in lower minor league ball.
Eshelman came to Philadelphia from Houston, the team that drafted him in the Phils’ Ken Giles trade. He then essentially entered baseball bootcamp, as talented catchers Logan Moore and Jorge Alfaro helped bring him along until something clicked.
“I was fortunate enough for them to take me under their wing and learn stuff from them as far as what to do on the field and what not to do off the field,” The southern California native said. “The coaching staff was unbelievable there too. I learned a lot last year and am excited for this year. One day Clint Robinson came up, he played in the big leagues in 2016. We set him up in a pretty good sequence and we got him and it was fun. You saw the results and Logan talked to me about it and I was able to take it into my own head and use it for the next game.”
As Eshelman raked in the wins and mowed through batters, he bore witness to several Phillies prospects realizing their big league dreams as several call ups occured last summer.
“I think the first one to go was Nick Williams, that was special,” Eshelman recalled. “I know he was in Triple-A for a while. The second one was J.P. [Crawford], I had a relationship with J. We have played with each other and against each other sine we were 12. To see him realize his dream was awesome. Rhys was the last one, he was my roommate. He came home and said he had to work camp the next day, we asked ‘why are you working camp?’ and he said, ‘I’m just kidding I’m going to the big leagues.’
“You can smell it, you just have to work hard and everyone of those guys did.”
Though Baseball America doesn’t project Eshelman as one of Philly’s top 10 prospects, it does see him as a bottom of the rotation major league starter. A spot Eshelman can earn as soon as this spring, as the Phillies have some vacancies in the major league pitching staff.
Don’t expect Eshelman to get the chance to face Davis in the big leagues. Davis, who spent most of his career as a first baseman, ironically is embarking on a journey to make the majors as a pitcher — just like Eshelman.