2018 was supposed to be the year Tom Eshelman made his major-league debut. He earned the Paul Owens Award as the top minor-league pitcher in 2017 with a 2.40 ERA, 13-3 record, and 0.973 WHIP in 23 starts between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
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Unfortunately, this year did not go nearly as well for Eshelman. He finished 2018 with a 2-13 record, 5.84 ERA, 4.80 fielding-independent pitching, 1.67 WHIP, and 2.31 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 games in Lehigh Valley.
The biggest red flag with Eshelman’s season was his 7.0% walk rate; while pretty good by most pitcher’s standards, it was the highest of any season in the system. He walked three or more batters six times, walking six batters in one of his last starts of the season. Eshelman’s M.O. is a minuscule walk rate and inducing weak contact; once his walk rate climbed, things went downhill from there.
Seeing Eshelman walk this many batters, even though it is still a rather low walk rate as a whole, is concerning for him. His command is his best tool and the only one above average. He needs his command to have any chance to be a major-league starter; he simply doesn’t have the stuff to make it without the command.
Eshelman’s potential debut in 2019 is entirely reliant on whether or not he relocates his command. If he does, his numbers should significantly improve. From there, he could be on the fast track to the majors as he needs protection from the Rule 5 draft this offseason.