When the Phillies traded former World Series MVP Cole Hamels and reliever Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers, they received a bounty of players in return. The six player return was highlighted by catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielder Nick Williams, and right-hander Jake Thompson.
Among the six were three other arms, including Alec Asher, veteran lefty Matt Harrison, and Jerad Eickhoff. Alfaro, Williams, and Thompson were the prizes of the blockbuster trade. Thompson was rated Texas’ top pitching prospect and the 49th best prospect by Baseball America. Likewise, Alfaro was considered to be one of, if not the best catching prospect in baseball and was rated as the Rangers’ fifth best prospect by Baseball America. Williams was rated as their fourth best prospect just ahead of Alfaro.
To say the least, those three players were brought in with the hopes that they could one day be major cogs on the next contending Phillies squad. The other three were unknowns.
So when Eickhoff made his major league debut for the Phillies and threw six scoreless innings against the Miami Marlins, it was a pleasant surprise. When he pitched seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts against a talented and contending Chicago Cubs offense, it was impressive.
But when he gave up just two run while striking out 20 batters in his final 14 innings of 2015, the Phillies realized that they had something special in the 25-year-old. And to make those two starts even better, they came against two motivated NL East rivals. The Nationals were desperately trying to make up ground in the division, and the Mets were trying to seal home-field advantage for their upcoming playoff series with the Dodgers.
Eickhoff’s defining moment occurred before facing his final batter of 2015. In the seventh inning of his final start against the Mets, manager Pete Mackanin walked to the mound after Eickhoff had allowed runners to reach first and second with two outs. The rookie convinced Mackanin to leave him in and he escaped the jam by striking out Juan Lagares on a nasty curve ball to end the inning.
The right-hander’s poise on the mound was the most impressive aspect of his game. Not one time during his eight starts did he look rattled or nervous. Instead, he pitched with the demeanor of an established veteran. His .205 opposing batting average with runners in scoring position reflects that veteran-like poise, especially in tight situations.
Stats wise, Eickhoff recorded a 3-3 record, but his 2.65 ERA led all Phillies starters with at least 51 innings-pitched. He held opposing batters to a meager .212 batting average and an OPS of just .621 while averaging just over eight strikeouts per nine innings to just over two walks.
His roughest outing came at Fenway Park in early September when the righty lasted just four innings as the Red Sox tagged for eight hits and six runs. However, Eickhoff would bounce back in his next start with a seven inning, one run effort against the Cubs.
Eickhoff’s biggest contribution was that he helped stabilize a deficient Phillies starting rotation that featured a mix of young and journeymen arms–something that not many would’ve predicted when the Phillies acquired him in the Hamels deal. Not only did they acquire a promising young arm to help them during their rebuild, but they might have found another young arm to join Aaron Nola in a starting rotation that is in desperate need of fresh blood.
Eickhoff might not have had the track record of other prospects acquired from the Rangers, but he was a pleasant surprise in 2015 and showed that he can be one of the main cogs to this rebuilding team moving forward.