June 5, 2014
The Situation: Franklin Morales continues to turn in uncompetitive outings, and the Rockies have now decided to pull the plug on the starter and move him into the team’s bullpen. Colorado will fill the rotation spot by tapping into their starting pitching depth at the minor-league level, specifically by summoning Eddie Butler—the no. 2-ranked prospect in the system entering 2014—to the big leagues from Double-A Tulsa.
Background: The Rockies took Butler with the second of their two first round choices in the 2012 amateur draft, popping the right-handed pitcher out of Radford University with the no. 46 overall selection. Given Colorado’s unique home field environment at Coors Field, the Rockies felt Butler’s groundball generating arsenal would not only play well at the major leagues, but at their home ballpark. Baseball Prospectus identified Butler as a prospect on the rise within the Rockies system entering 2013, and he responded with an ERA of 1.80 across three minor-league levels. Butler’s continued his dominance in 2014, posting a 2.49 ERA across 68 2/3 innings of work this season with Double-A Tulsa. While Butler’s strikeout rate in 2014 is significantly lower than it was in 2013, we can attribute that to player-specific developmental focuses that had Butler pocketing his best offerings in order to strengthen the weaker links.
The Scouting: Now that the training wheels are off, Butler will have his entire six-pitch arsenal at his disposal to miss bats and, what the Rockies would most prefer, generate quick outs through early count groundballs.
With that in mind, look for Butler to attack hitters with a multitude of fastball looks, whether of them two-seam (92-93 mph), four-seam (mid-90s), or cutting (87-88 mph) variety. Butler is the rare pitcher who can run his fastball with plus-plus movement at plus-plus velocity, but don’t sleep on the cutter, which is also a bat-missing offering.
But that only covers half of Butler’s arsenal, which also features two different types of breaking pitches. One of which is a sharp mid-80s slider that Butler will throw at the back feet of opposite–handed hitters. The slider isn’t a wipeout offering, but it does flash plus due to its strong late depth. Then there is the traditional curveball, which Butler has been working on more as part of his development as a pitcher in the minor leagues this season. The curveball is a hard, low-80s offering with depth and good bite. Butler won’t be able to ignore it, as it is the only pitch that can be considered “soft” compared to the rest of the arsenal.
Lastly, there is Butler’s best secondary offering, an upper-80s changeup that grades out as double-plus due to its heavy action combined with strong pitchability. Butler is able to throw the changeup for quality strikes regardless of the situation in the game, and that will be key at the next level.
If everything clicks, Butler could hit his ceiling of a no. 2 starter with a realistic role of a no. 3 starter. The biggest hurdles the righty must overcome to reach his ceiling are his wiry body and long-limbed delivery, in which he shows the ball at the back. Though Butler added significant weight to his frame in the offseason, gaining about 20 pounds, he still has a narrow frame. However, the floor is that of a top-end closer if he can’t work out in the rotation, which isn’t the worst backup plan.
Immediate Impact: Colorado is only 1 1/2 games back of a wild card spot, and the organization is clearly sending a message to their team and fans they are serious about making it back to the postseason sooner rather than later. There may be some growing pains as Butler figures out what works and doesn’t at the highest level, but I believe he will able to find success immediately in the starting rotation. Look for Butler to attack the strike zone with solid-average command of his arsenal that features a combination of high-end velocity and movement, as well as the strength in numbers to keep hitters off-balance. Butler may not generate the strikeouts his stuff should warrant, but that can be attributed to the approach rather than the lack of quality stuff.
Fantasy Impact: It was an open question as to who would end up in the big leagues first between Butler and rotation mate Jonathan Gray, and while it looks like Butler has won out, Gray retains the higher fantasy upside. That’s no knock on Butler though, who has plenty of upside unto himself, though it might not be usable immediately, with his debut coming in the effervescent confines of Coors Field against a high-ABV lineup like the Dodgers.
While he’s unlikely to be a strikeout artist, he should miss more bats than he’s shown thus far in 2014 (14 percent strikeout rate). His bread and butter is ground balls though, and that should play well, or at least better than others, at elevation. He’s got more raw talent than anyone currently on the Rockies’ staff, so his playing time should be fairly secure as they try to recover from their May swoon after such a hot start. If Butler pitched every fifth game the rest of the way he’d earn 20 more starts, but with just under 150 frames on the books in 2013, the Rockies might be careful with him down the stretch. Fantasy owners can reasonably expect something closer to 15-18 starts, with the former number being more realistic than the latter.
Always stingy with the walks, Butler should be a boon in WHIP while being effective enough in strikeouts to help most teams. He’s not going to save your season, but should function more as another quality depth option for your fantasy staff. The ERA could be his fantasy downfall, at least in his rookie season. He’s got the talent to produce better, but his environment is working against him and an ERA in the range of 3.90-4.20 is probably more reasonable, though neither the upper 4.00s nor lower 3.00s would be a total shock. He’s got a good lineup behind him that could net him some wins, but the Rockies are more of an okay team than a good one, so he’ll likely have to earn whatever he does get in that category.
As a recent resident of the Stash List, it’s possible Butler is already owned in most leagues—including redraft and shallow ones. He needs to be owned in 14-team leagues and deeper, with shallower leagues using him more as a much up play (road starts), unless you have short benches. If he’s available in FAAB bidding, he’s worth something in the $8-12 bid range, though it’s possible his name value means you’ll have to overpay to win. If you have the ability to bench him in poor matchups, it also increases his value a touch. Naturally, he’s worth more in dynasty leagues where he’ll be able to turn in a full season next year, but his value isn’t such that he’s worth breaking the bank for this year, even in moderately deep keepers. —Craig Goldstein
Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @cdgoldstein