Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff performed strongly in 2016. The right-hander could be an important component of the team’s future.
The Philadelphia Phillies likely expected someone other than Jerad Eickhoff to be their best young pitcher this season. But Aaron Nola developed an elbow issue that shut his season down in August. Vincent Velasquez spent time on the disabled list in June for biceps soreness and ended his season early due to an innings limit. However, Eickhoff doesn’t take top honors among this trio by default. No, he earned it.
The Texas Rangers sent six players to Philadelphia on July 31, 2015. In return the AL contender received Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. ‘Hollywood’ dramatically ended his Phillies career by throwing a no-hitter against the Chicago Cubs at fabled Wrigley Field. Then-general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. was tasked with securing as much potential as possible from what was left of his historic 102-win 2011 team.
Scoring pitchers Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson, along with catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams was seen as a potential prospect haul. Veteran hurler Matt Harrison was also obtained. But he was included in the deal due to the heavy coin that remained on his contract through 2018. Agreeing to accept that financial burden somewhat offset the tens of millions that the Rangers will be paying Hamels through at least 2019. Harrison’s back issue was and is considered likely to be career-ending. So Amaro’s play was purely for the future.
Eickhoff made his major league debut on August 21 last season. He started eight games, posting a solid 2.65 ERA and 1.039 WHIP. The 26-year-old right-hander was selected by the Rangers in the 15th round of the 2011 amateur draft. So his solid progression in the minor leagues and his encouraging start in the bigs indicate good scouting, an overachieving personality, or both.
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As this season gets set to end, Eickhoff leads the Phillies in starts (32), barely trails Jeremy Hellickson‘s rotation-leading WHIP mark (1.169) at 1.171 and sports the best ERA (3.72) among all Philadelphia starters this season. Eickhoff has increased his use of off-speed pitches this year to go along with a low-90s fastball that he shows hitters 52.9 percent of the time. His continued even distribution of ground balls to fly balls reinforces solid strike zone control and implemented use of opposing hitter study time.
Heading into 2017, Eickhoff easily projects as one of the top pitchers on a developing staff. If Hellickson rejects an expected one-year qualifying offer, GM Matt Klentak is likely to replace him with another veteran. Eickhoff, a veteran pitcher, Nola – if healthy – and Velasquez would then form a competitive starting four. The 162-game season will require a handful of additional starting arms to supplement the long ride as well.
Contention next year seems unlikely, but approaching or hitting the .500 mark is a reasonable goal. Eickhoff will be 28 years old by the time July 2, 2018 arrives. Assuming progress and good health, he will be working in the prime of his career at that point.
His mound demeanor projects to a future playoff performer. Along with a number of needed offensive upgrades, it’s fair to believe that Eickhoff and his Phillies teammates could be making a playoff push in that near future.