"I think deep down, we all kind of see that and think about that," Appel said about their collective futures. "The three of us have played against each other at different levels of the Minor Leagues and now we're all on the same team, and we see each other's talent and we get excited about it."
These were the Phillies' first roster transactions of spring -- not because the pitchers didn't meet expectations, but because they are such a critical part of the club's future. Philadelphia needs them to get ready for the Triple-A season, which means building up arm strength by increasing their workload as spring progresses. That would not have happened in Phillies camp.
Thompson, Appel and Eflin are the No. 2, No. 4 and No. 13 prospects in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com. Thompson and Appel are the No. 55 and No. 70 prospects in baseball. The trio will open the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, forming one of the most talented rotations in the Minor Leagues. The Phillies want them to begin their preparations for that season. What happens after that is up to them.
"Hopefully, we'll all get up [to the Majors] at the same time and play for 10 years," Thompson said. "That's how it's supposed to work. Obviously, things happen and people pan out and people don't. But I think the Phillies are definitely building their team that way, not just with pitchers, but with some of the young position players, too. I think that's the idea."
Thompson allowed eight hits and one unearned run in five innings in his Grapefruit League appearances. Appel allowed two hits and two runs (one unearned) in four innings. Eflin allowed five hits and two runs (one earned) in five innings.
"The main goal was just to open up myself and meet as many people as I can, just learn as much as I can," Eflin said. "I learned an incredible amount, mostly pitching stuff, but also how to handle yourself off the field and in the clubhouse."
They all pitched on Wednesday in a split-squad game against the Twins in Fort Myers. Phils manager Pete Mackanin made the trip to get one last look at the pitchers who could be in the rotation before the end of the season.
"I think yesterday was really good for me, Jake and Zach," Appel said. "I think the three of us are going to have a lot of fun over there. We're going to get ready for the season, and we're all going to work hard and get back here soon. So I think it's a really good place to be right now. We're all working hard. Spring Training is exactly that -- Spring Training. Getting your body right for the season. If they knew that I wasn't going to start on the big league club this year, then it's a great thing for us to go over there. Instead of getting one or two innings every week, go ahead and get three to five, get extended and get ready for the season."
The Phillies believe Thompson is the most well-rounded pitcher of the group and might be the closest to the big leagues. Appel probably has the best stuff. Eflin's stuff is arguably as good as Appel's, but the Phils want him to finish batters on a more consistent basis.
"It's going to be fun for us to get on a little rhythm over there," Thompson said. "Hopefully we go back-to-back-to-back [in the regular season]. That would be cool to see. But, yeah, just continuing to be around each other and feeding off each other's successes. Just the internal competition should be really good."
Thompson and Eflin live nearby in Clearwater, Fla., just a three-minute walk away from one another, so they see each other regularly. But it seems clear that the trio gets along well. Like Thompson said, they expect friendly competition in Triple-A.
And maybe -- just maybe -- they will all pan out to become the core of the Phillies' rotation for years.
"It would be incredible if that happened," Eflin said. "I know we have a lot of work to do. But it would be a lot of fun."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.