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Renewed Eshelman set to start Triple-A ASG

MLB.com

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- With his girlfriend already fast asleep for hours, Tom Eshelman spent countless late fall nights turned early winter mornings wide awake, as the clock ticked agonizingly toward 3 a.m., painstakingly poring over the footage of the first failures of his baseball career in the same town where he became one of the most dominant pitchers in the college game.

"Sometimes it would be tough to sleep, because I'd be thinking about it so much," he said of the seemingly interminable nights in Fullerton, Calif., that followed his second season in the Minors this past offseason.

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ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- With his girlfriend already fast asleep for hours, Tom Eshelman spent countless late fall nights turned early winter mornings wide awake, as the clock ticked agonizingly toward 3 a.m., painstakingly poring over the footage of the first failures of his baseball career in the same town where he became one of the most dominant pitchers in the college game.

"Sometimes it would be tough to sleep, because I'd be thinking about it so much," he said of the seemingly interminable nights in Fullerton, Calif., that followed his second season in the Minors this past offseason.

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"I never really experienced that failure before."

It was during those sleepless nights that Eshelman -- still not yet two calendar years removed from the day he was drafted and just months after posting a 5.14 ERA in Double-A -- never dreamt he'd be where he is today, sitting in the dugout of Triple-A Lehigh Valley, bestowed the honor of starting the Triple-A All-Star Game. And not just because he was having trouble falling asleep in the first place.

"I didn't even expect to be at this level at this point in time. I kind of thought I'd be in [Double-A] Reading all year. ... To be up here is pretty special and to be in the [Triple-A] All-Star Game is even more special," he said.

Assuming he'd stay in Double-A throughout 2017 wasn't far-fetched. Eshelman was embarking on his age-23 season after spending only the second half of 2016 in Double-A. In those starts, he averaged fewer than five innings.

"I got to experience throwing shortened games and that didn't really sit well with me in the offseason," he said.

Playing three years at Cal State Fullerton -- one of a handful of programs unequivocally pacing the college baseball landscape -- Eshelman starred, pitching about 7 2/3 innings per start.

Only four schools have more national titles than Fullerton. Since 1975, when NCAA Division I baseball began, the Titans have never posted a losing record. They rostered an All-American pitcher for 18 straight seasons and sent 13 first-round picks to the Majors. Five were pitchers.

Eshelman was better than all of them.

He holds the best career ERA, 1.65, and strikeout-to-walk ratio, 17.8, in program history, thanks to 321 strikeouts against a microscopic 18 walks. The next-best K/BB rate in Fullerton's history is 8.3. The pitcher the Fullerton faithful saw grace Goodwin Field between 2013-2015 was no less than the best control pitcher in NCAA history -- his 0.43 walks-per-nine-innings is the best career mark in over four decades of Division I play.

Eshelman's unassuming two-step windup, standard leg-kick and easy exertion surely caused many sleepless nights for Big West opponents. But this offseason, it was he who was sleepless, and struggling.

It took less than a month of good outings in Double-A in 2017 before Eshelman's Triple-A callup. Now, among qualified Triple-A hurlers, he boasts the second-best K/BB ratio and owns the only ERA below 2.00.

"[He wasn't] blessed with a 95, 98-mph fastball so [he] had to figure things out to progress," Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan said.

At Fullerton, Eshelman figured those things out and became the pitcher he is today.

"I've taken some things that I learned from college that I'm able to implement it into my game right know," Eshelman said.

"This game comes toward you better when you have confidence."

Just a few months ago, eyes tired and strained on film, that confidence may have been shaken slightly. Now, back to his old strike-throwing, walk-avoiding, run-suppressing self, there may be no pitcher more confident than Tom Eshelman.

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies, Tom Eshelman