Scott Kingery and Tom Eshelman peered into the Phillies’ dugout on Tuesday night and it probably looked a bit like Allentown. There was Rhys Hoskins. And Nick Williams. And J.P. Crawford. And Jorge Alfaro. Even triple-A manager Dusty Wathan.
The two prospects — who were honored Tuesday night with the Paul Owens awards — played this season with 15 of the current Phillies. It is only a matter of time until Kingery, a speedy second baseman who developed a power stroke this season, and Eshelman, a righthander with precise command, join them. But that time could be complicated.
“It’s just one step away,” Kingery said. “And every time you see one of your good friends you’ve played with for the whole season make that step up and start doing well, it gives you a little bit of confidence. Knowing that, ‘Hey, I was playing with these guys yesterday and now they’re making their big-league debuts.’”
Kingery and Eshelman would likely be in the majors already had it not been for baseball’s roster rules. Neither player is eligible for December’s Rule 5 draft, making it unnecessary for the Phillies to add them to the 40-man roster. They could be here as early as Opening Day 2018, but that’s where the complication lies.
The Phillies can preserve a year of Kingery’s club control by stashing him at triple A until roughly the middle of May. They can sacrifice six weeks of the season — in a year when the Phillies do not expect to contend — in exchange for delaying Kingery’s eligibility for free agency from 2023 to 2024. The Phillies would not be the first team to do such a thing.
Keeping Kingery at triple A would be a bit more challenging if he has a stellar spring training for the second straight year. The Phillies will likely try to move either Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis in the offseason to make room for a future double-play pairing of Kingery and J.P. Crawford.
“If they bring you up at a certain time, your rookie eligibility goes away and that’s a year closer to arbitration,” Kingery said. “I understand that I don’t need to be protected this year and there are other guys — like Rhys — that need to be protected, and they had spots open for them on the 40-man. As the season went on, I kind of learned about that kind of stuff.”
Eshelman could crack next season’s starting rotation, but a lot of that depends on how the team attacks the free-agent pitching market this winter. The Phillies already have eight candidates on their roster to fill a rotation alongside Aaron Nola. Eshelman, a 23-year-old righthander, is probably ticketed for triple A but could be the first pitcher promoted when a need arises.
Kingery batted .294 with a .786 OPS in triple A after being promoted in late June. He had 18 homers at double A and eight at triple A. Kingery, 23, was the only player in the minor leagues with at least 25 homers and more than 21 stolen bases. He was successful on 29 of his 34 steal attempts. Eshelman, acquired in the 2015 trade that sent Ken Giles to Houston, joined Lehigh Valley in May and had a 2.23 ERA in 121 innings. He allowed one or zero runs in 10 of his 18 starts, led the International League in WHIP (0.94), and finished second in ERA. He has walked just 51 batters over 281 professional innings.
“The thing that I need to do is to keep pushing myself,” Eshelman said. “This award is really humbling to get, but it’s ‘What can I do to get better?’ That’s what I need to have this offseason.”
The two players were presented with their Paul Owens awards as the top pitcher and position player in the Phillies’ farm system, and then posed for a picture with 10 past winners — Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley, Phillies coach Mickey Morandini, and eight current Phillies players — who were in the ballpark on Tuesday. They snapped the photo and the 10 in uniform went on to participate in the game while Kingery and Eshelman — in sharp suits — watched from a suite. It is just a matter of time until that changes.
Hector Neris walked to the bullpen Tuesday night with his hat covered in rosin powder, just as it was on Monday when the Dodgers asked the umpire to check if there was pine tar. The umpires said it was clean. Neris said the spot under the powder was just dirt. “I know I didn’t have anything bad there,” Neris said when asked if he was nervous when umpires checked the hat. “You’re only nervous if you have something wrong.”… Jake Thompson faces lefthander Alex Wood on Wednesday.