Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz were among the group of good young players who came to the Phillies in the Ken Giles trade in the middle of winter. Everyone focused on Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Mark Appel and Eshelman and Arauz went almost unspoken of in the trade. To overlook the two young pitchers would be a mistake, because they both have a shot at having an impact on the Phillies, though both are much further away from the majors than the "bigger" names in the deal.
Eshelman will open the year at High-A Clearwater after pitching sparingly in both the Rookie Gulf Coast League and the Low-A Midwest League last season for the Astros. Eshelman, 21, was just drafted last June, being selected by Houston in the second round of the Draft out of Cal State - Fullerton. In just four minor league games, he was 0-1 with a 4.35 ERA, striking out eight in 10 1/3 innings of work, but also walking five and allowing 12 hits.
The control issues were very uncharacteristic for Eshelman, who walked just 17 hitters in 360 college innings, so it figures that's just a blip on the radar. The fact that Eshelman threw so many innings in college is likely part of the reason why they moved him right along to Clearwater, figuring that he had enough seasoning against young hitters and had enough confidence in himself to handle High-A hitters in the Florida State League. It's always been thought that Eshelman would be able to move quickly through the minor league ranks, which also likely played into the Phillies decision.
Some scouts worry about a pitcher with 360 college innings on his arm. In back-to-back starts in the playoffs this past summer, Eshelman threw 143 pitches in one game and then another 100 in his next start. He also came on and threw an inning to help put Cal State - Fullerton into the College World Series. It remains to be seen how his arm will hold up long-term, but the Phillies aren't ready to waste innings on younger hitters after what they've seen from Eshelman.
One of Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook's favorite regimens is to set up a string tied knee-high across home plate and tell the pitchers to hit the string. Eshelman, who grew up throwing at a chalk strike zone he drew on a brick wall, continuously bounced the ball off the string to the amazement of the coaching staff and other players.
As for his repertoire, Eshelman isn't a power pitcher, at all, preferring to rely on location and mixing pitches. His fastball is generally in the low-90s and even when he pushes it a little, he's usually no higher than 93. His slider and change-up are delivered with the same control as the fastball and have good speed separation giving him a good repertoire of pitches that becomes a very good arsenal when it's combined with his pinpoint location and his ability to mix the pitches. He also uses a somewhat deceptive motion to keep hitters off-balance at the plate.
If few people know about Eshelman, even less know about Harold Arauz. In fact, with the Phillies getting one Arauz [Harold] in the deal, and dealing another Arauz [Jonathan], some people may be confused about just who is who.
Harold Arauz is a 20-year old pitcher, who has worked as both a starter and reliever in his four minor league seasons. He's listed as a starter for the BlueClaws, which is where he has mostly worked, having made 34 starts and 19 relief appearances while in the Astros organization. Houston signed Arauz as an international free agent on July 12, 2011 and kept him stashed in the Dominican Summer League for two seasons before bringing him to the states in 2014. Over four minor league seasons, he's 11-8 with a 3.54 ERA. He pitched in the New York - Penn League last season, posting a 5.75 ERA. Even with the weak numbers in the NYPL, the Phillies are bumping him up to Lakewood to start the 2016 season.
If Eshelman and Arauz are ever at the same level, it would be fun to see them pitch back-to-back days. While Eshelman is a quick worker who relies simply on location and command, Arauz is much more of a fire-baller, even though he doesn't have great size (6' 2", 185 pounds). Over each of the last two seasons, Arauz has struck out more than a hitter per inning, striking out 11.5 per nine innings in 2014 and 9.1 per nine last season. While he's all about power, he still maintains decent control, having walked 2.5 per nine innings in his career, although that number has gone higher as he faces better hitters, reaching a high of 3.8 walks per nine in the Gulf Coast League in 2014.
Arauz loves to lead with his cutter, which he brings to the hitter in the low to mid-90s when he's on. His secondary pitches are decent, but not up to the level of the fastball, which Arauz tends to lean on a little too much at times, leading some to think he may be destined for a full-time bullpen job. One thing that scouts like about Arauz is that he has a very clean, fluid delivery that he repeats easily and doesn't rely on a violent arm action to generate speed.
Finally, Ulises Joaquin makes our list of pitchers to watch in 2016. The 23-year old reliever has had success in the bullpen for the Phillies after they dabbled with him as a starter in both the Dominican Summer League and New York - Penn Leagues early in his career. Since 2014, Joaquin has been strictly a reliever in the Phillies organization, moving steadily up the ladder to start the year at Double-A Reading.
Joaquin missed all of the 2013 season with a right shin fracture, but hasn't shown any ill effects of the injury since then.
Joaquin has a fastball in the mid-90s, touching 96 when he pumps it up. His off-speed pitches are sometimes as much as 10 miles per hour slower than the fastball, giving him good change of speeds. Joaquin has a fluid motion with a 3/4 arm slot and hides the ball well, leaving it to explode out of his hand.
In each of the past two seasons, Joaquin has notched 16 saves and figures to serve as Reading's closer coming into the season.