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March 21, 2014

Raising Aces

Bush League: Eddie Butler, Tyler Glasnow, and Alex Meyer

by Doug Thorburn


With one week to go until Opening Day, let's tackle one final Bush League installment of the offseason, taking a look at a trio of pitchers who rank among BP's Top 50 prospects: the Rockies’ Eddie Butler, the Pirates’ Tyler Glasnow, and the Twins’ Alex Meyer. These pitchers embody some of the more common traits of high-end prospects on the mound, from stuff to mechanics, and though each player saw his stock rise during the 2013 season, there’s still a heavy dose of development needed before they’ll be ready for the show.

RHP Eddie Butler, Rockies
Butler jumped three rungs up the minor-league ladder in 2013, starting the year in the Sally League and finishing with a half-dozen starts for Tulsa of the Texas League, with a Futures Game appearance sandwiched in the middle. He was a supplemental pick in the 2012 draft, selected 46th overall out of Radford University. Butler ranked 26th on BP's Top 101 Prospect list this year, and though his supposed ability to switch-hit played no role in that ranking, it will be fun to watch him secure platoon advantages at the plate in Colorado.

Level

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

A

9

54.3

1.66

23.7%

11.6%

11.6%

0.9%

A+

13

67.7

2.39

24.0%

7.5%

20.8%

2.5%

AA

6

27.7

0.65

24.8%

5.9%

12.9%

0.0%

While recognizing the caveats inherent in such small samples, it’s particularly intriguing that Butler's control numbers improved as the level of competition increased, while his K rate was relatively consistent across levels. The strikeouts were strong if not overwhelming, but the low hit rate is potentially indicative of the quality of his stuff.

Jason Parks and the BP prospect staff gave Butler’s arsenal excellent grades, including a 7+ on his fastball, a potential 7 changeup, and a 6+ for the potential of his slider. The clubs in his bag are a match for those of future teammate Jonathan Gray, and though Butler's overall grades are a small step behind, that has more to do with Gray's potential than any limited ceiling for Butler. The overall package should be a good fit for the Coors Field gauntlet that awaits him.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

35

Momentum

60

Torque

70

Posture

45

Release Distance

55

Repetition

40

Overall

B –

For an explanation of the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Butler's delivery is a case of extremes, trading stability for power, the result of which is often a lack of consistency at release point. It's the type of profile that has become the trademark of shorter pitchers such as Marcus Stroman and Yordano Ventura, though the 6'2”, 180-pound Butler has a better physical foundation from which to build. He has multiple phases to his stride and momentum, beginning with a slow move to the plate as he executes the lift portion of his delivery.

After max leg lift, Butler undergoes a stark transition, showing improved speed, including an extra charge toward the plate as he shifts into third gear during the final portion of his stride. The sheer momentum is plus, though his pattern has proved difficult to consistently execute. Butler’s considerable velocity is powered by huge torque, with a large degree of upper-body twist along with a heavy delay before firing into trunk rotation.

The transition from max leg lift is the crux of Butler's delivery, and his issues are potentially intensified by his execution of a reverse twist during the lift phase and a tuck into a fetal position at his maximum height. He drastically lowers the lift from the stretch, a strategy that wreaks further havoc on the timing signature of a pitcher who struggles to repeat his motion. Butler’s balance improved throughout the season, though his peak delivery still involved a considerable drop after max lift, a fair amount of head-drag due to the back-side collapse, and some lateral tilt after foot strike.

Butler quieted these elements between April and August, noticeably improving his overall stability, and the reduction in his walk rate was tied to his more solid foundation. Compare the pair of pitches below, the first of which was taken from a game in April and the second of which came from an August contest.

Butler’s stuff and upward trajectory point to a bright future, but there are still a few items to check off on his developmental to-do list before he can make an impact at the highest level. The key will be to continue his progression with balance, further downplaying the drop in his delivery and maintaining a stable head position during the stride phase. That adjustment would make it easier for Butler to maintain solid posture through release point, and though his immense torque would make it more difficult to earn plus grades in the posture category, his stat line would reap the rewards.

RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pirates
One of the biggest breakout players in the minors in 2013, Glasnow entered the year with fewer than 40 professional innings under his belt and a fifth-round pedigree from the 2011 draft. By the end of the season, the 6'7” right-hander's 13.3 K's per nine innings registered as the highest rate in pro baseball (minimum 70 innings pitched), and his absurdly low rate of 4.4 hits allowed per nine underscored his dominance of A-ball hitters. That hit rate ranked second in the circuit, behind the 4.1 hits per nine that Butler allowed during his 54-inning stint with the Sally League.

Level

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

A

24

111.3

2.18

36.3%

13.5%

11.9%

2.0%

Glasnow's stuff received rave reviews from the BP prospect staff, though the grades might seem modest when compared to Butler’s. Glasnow's 93-96 mph fastball earned a 6+ rating, and his curve was considered another plus offering with a potential 6 grade, with the changeup rated as average.

The biggest blip on Glasnow’s statistical radar was a high walk rate, with nearly five free passes per nine innings. That lack of control was representative of his season at large, as his performance was inconsistent on an inning-to-inning and game-to-game scale. The issues extended to his delivery, and though Glasnow's Mechanics Report Card features plenty of plus grades, it was rare for all of those positive attributes to line up for any extended period.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

50

Momentum

65

Torque

60

Posture

50

Release Distance

70

Repetition

35

Overall

B

The above scores represent Glasnow's peak grades, with standout marks in the power categories and average grades for stability, but there were many examples from the 2013 season in which he completely dropped the reins on his delivery.

Glasnow’s outstanding momentum includes plus marks for both gears, including his strong initial move into max leg lift, which is followed by a smooth transition into the secondary burst of his stride. That rapid pace combines with a tall leg lift to produce an extended stride from the windup, though Glasnow kills the lift with a near slide step when pitching from the stretch, which diminishes his stride and has a tendency to butcher his timing with runners on base. The windup delivery takes advantage of his long levers, and his Stretch Armstrong arms achieve incredible extension at release point, earning a 70 grade for release distance that might be the best score in the minor leagues. At peak, Glasnow's delivery can hardly be contained by the dirt encircling the mound.

Glasnow still has a ways to go before achieving the mechanical baselines that produce the consistency needed to pitch in the majors, but he’s in an excellent organization in which to optimize his development. The Pirates emphasize stability, repetition, and fastball command with their young charges, and these elements are the most significant hurdles that stand in the way of the right-hander's career path. The real question will be whether he can achieve that consistency while retaining his plus burst to the plate, or if he ends up calming the storm in order to find a more repeatable (albeit shallower) release point.

RHP Alex Meyer, Twins
Meyer is a giant, listed at 6'9” and 220 pounds, with the muscle mass to support his massive frame. He was selected by the Nationals with the no. 23 overall pick of the 2011 draft, plucked from the University of Kentucky. The Twins acquired him over the 2012-13 offseason in a straight-up swap for Denard Span, and Meyer's productive 2013 earned him the no. 32 spot on BP's top 101.

Level

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

Rook

3

8.3

1.08

47.1%

8.8%

20.6%

0.0%

AA

13

70.0

3.21

28.1%

9.7%

20.1%

1.0%

Meyer's 2013 season was cut short by a shoulder injury that knocked him out for more than two months of the summer, though the return of his fastball velocity helped to quell concerns about the right-hander's long-term health. The BP prospect crew gave his fastball an elite grade, with a potential 8 owing to the high-90s gas that has been known to scrape triple digits. The only question is Meyer’s command of the pitch.

Meyer’s two-plane slider ranked as another plus offering, getting a 6+ grade that bordered on 7. Like so many young pitchers, Meyer has an off-speed pitch that lags behind his other offerings, though its 5+ grade will play up thanks to his size and the speed of his fastball if he can can better replicate his arm speed on all pitch types.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

40

Momentum

60

Torque

70

Posture

60

Release Distance

65

Repetition

40

Overall

B

A trend emerges when we look at the report cards for these three pitchers; Meyer falls right in line with the others, receiving plus marks for momentum and torque but lacking the balance to support such power. However, Meyer stands out in that he’s able to correct his imbalance after foot strike, finishing his delivery with plus posture at release point, when his mechanics are peaking.

Meyer’s solid posture combines with strong momentum and long limbs to further extend the 6’9” righty’s release distance, though his method of achieving that momentum leaves him wide open for timing inconsistencies. Meyer's first gear is slow, but his stride phase features a powerful burst to the plate, and his struggles in coordinating that shaky transition after max leg lift lead to his struggles at release. Meyer’s shift into second gear is accompanied by a drop in balance, thanks to a back-side collapse that causes his head to trail behind his body.

Meyer has near-elite torque that involves a huge twist of his upper half as well as a delay of rotation after foot strike. However, his timing of rotation was inconsistent last season, as his choppy pace to the plate and shaky balance cluttered the obstacle course from first movement through pitch release. Even Meyer’s best outings featured bouts of inconsistency, and the key to his climb to his ceiling will be smoothing out his delivery after max leg lift. If he can quiet the drop and introduce a smoother shift between gears, he’ll find it easier to harness his long limbs and massive frame to take full advantage of his monster stuff.

Doug Thorburn is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Doug's other articles. You can contact Doug by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
Baseball Prospectus Ne... (03/21)
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Premium Article Raising Aces: Bush Lea... (03/14)
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