When you trade a player of Cole Hamels’ caliber you expect to get back premium prospects that will help you build your future core, and Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, and Jorge Alfaro meet that requirement. But, you also get the opportunity to acquire players outside of the general public’s knowledge that you value highly. In Eickhoff the Phillies pried away a player they liked a lot (and Texas valued very highly as well), and yet was seen as a throw in at the time of the trade. Eickhoff exceeded everyone’s expectations since the trade and has firmly moved into being a part of the future of the Phillies (where to be determined).
What Was Written Before (During) the Season:
Given that he arrived at midseason, there is no preseason writeup on Eickhoff, instead enjoy what I wrote about him before he made his first start in the Phillies’ organization.
19. Jerad Eickhoff, RHP, Lehigh Valley
What Happened: It has been a slow rise for Eickhoff who is a bit old for a prospect, but he has started to master his stuff more in the last year. He pitches at 91-95 and can touch 97. His breaking ball will flash plus and his changeup will show average. He is more control than command right now, but he does throw strikes. He has shown the stuff to be a back end starter. There has been some thought that the FB/CB combo will play up in the bullpen.
What Next: Eickhoff will go to Lehigh Valley where he should continue to start. The IL should be more forgiving than the PCL, especially on home runs. He is already on the 40 man roster so he should move to the top of the call up list if the Phillies need another starter.
What Happened in the Minors:
Stat Line (AA – Rangers): 2 GS 10.0 IP 2.70 ERA 2 HR 3 BB (7.5%) 14 K (35.0%)
Stat Line (AAA – Rangers): 18 G 17 GS 101.2 IP 4.25 ERA 12 HR 33 BB (7.7%) 93 K (21.8%)
Stat Line (AAA – Phillies): 3 GS 21.1 IP 2.49 ERA 1 HR 3 BB (3.5%) 19 K (22.1%)
Eickhoff was a 15th round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2011 draft. He had a rather pedestrian trip through the minors showing an above average fastball, an improving curveball, a useable slider, and developing changeup. Eickhoff showed the ability to throw strikes, but not necessarily the ability to command his pitches. By late 2014 Eickhoff was showing a plus fastball at 91-95 touching up to 97 and a plus curveball, but his changeup lacked enough to project him as a starter, but those that followed the Rangers’ system thought he had a shot to be good reliever by the end of 2015. Over the 2015 season, Eickhoff showed large inconsistencies with no walk, high walk, no run, lots of run, 11 strikeout, 3 strikeout, and every other type of performance imaginable.
Eickhoff did show some changeup growth and his slider was an average pitch as well. He was able to limit his walks while striking out a good amount of batters, but in the PCL he gave up a large amount of home runs. He was dominant for Lehigh Valley in 3 starts after the trade and was able to avoid walking anyone (well 3 batters did get a free pass). He ended his time in the minor by giving up 5 runs to Pawtucket (a game in which he threw 102 pitches and was left in for a few too many batters), but he struck out 8 while walking only 1.
What Happened in the Majors:
Stat Line: 8 GS 51.0 IP 2.65 ERA 5 HR 13 BB (6.4%) 49 K (24.1%)
Major League Debut: August 21, 2015
Before talking stuff and results, the most impressive part of Eickhoff’s brief time in the majors is that he pitched 51 innings in 8 games to end a long year (6.1 IP/GS). After a scoreless debut, he struggled for three more starts. He then was able to refind his plus curveball (he was having trouble with the seams on the major league baseball) and end his year with 4 starts going 28.0 inning with a 0.96 ERA while striking out 33 and only walking 7. This is an important distinction, because the curveball is a real out pitch for Eickhoff as I detailed after his last start of the year. Overall Eickhoff was 90-92 with his fastball getting up to 94 and 95 at times, which is a bit down from the pre-trade reports. Early in the majors he was primarily fastball-slider, but after start 4 the curveball took over at the dominant second pitch, though the slider remained as a fairly high usage pitch allowing Eickhoff to change angles on hitters. His changeup was still seldom used, though he threw a couple in his last start of the season that showed above average movement and deception, but it remained very inconsistent.
Eickhoff showed control of his fastball, but the command was not always there (not surprising for a young pitcher). He did show command of his curveball and was able to use it to miss bats both in and out of the zone as seen in him striking out 10 Nationals.
He would repeat the 10 strikeout performance against the Mets in his last start of the year, going to the curveball in a long last at bat with Juan Lagares on a 3-2 count to get an inning ending strikeout.
In his brief time in the majors, Eickhoff looked like a future mid rotation starter.
It is hard to not be very excited about Eickhoff’s time in the majors. He is not young (he turned 25 in July), but that is less relevant for pitchers than hitters. The big concern is his changeup, because left handed batters had a lot of success off of him, hitting .265/.330/.500 while walking much more frequently (8.8% vs 4.5% vs RHBs) and striking out at a much reduced rate (16.5% vs 30.4%). His curveball helped to solve some of these problems, but long term he is going to need a playable changeup to be a good major league starting pitcher. He will flash some promise with the pitch, so there is a base to build on. If he can find an average to above changeup, Eickhoff has the rest of the arsenal to be a #3 starter because the curveball is an out pitch for him.
The fall back here is a very good reliever has the fastball should play up in short stints. However, given the Phillies’ major league starting pitching depth (non-existent) and bullpen depth (there are some live armed righties) it makes the most sense to give him all the time in the rotation he needs to work through his struggles. He should open 2016 as one of two rotation locks along with fellow RHP Aaron Nola.