The Colorado Rockies designated Eddie Butler for assignment today. It’s a far fall from grace for a young pitcher once considered amongst baseball’s best prospects.
Butler was selected at the end of the first round in 2012. It was the same draft that saw David Dahl drafted before him and Tom Murphy two rounds later. The six-foot-two right-hander was impressive in his Pioneer League debut, going 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 67.2 innings. He added a 55-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Hopes were high that the former Radford ace was ready for a quick climb to the majors.
That seemed to be the case as Butler was even more impressive in his second season. He dominated the South Atlantic League (5-1, 1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) on paper, but a 3.63 FIP may have been a harbinger of things to come. He was equally impressive upon his promotion to the hitter-friendly California League. Once again, his 4.16 FIP may have suggested that his 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP were a bit on the lucky side, influenced by a low .280 BABIP and stranding 73 percent of his runners. He made six very successful appearances in Double-A to end the season, and it seemed all systems were go for his big league arrival.
This is where the feel-good part of Eddie Butler's journey ends.
Butler entered the 2014 season as one of baseball’s top 50 prospects, reaching as high as the Top 25 on some outlets. His numbers in the minors that season did not meet the lofty expectations he had set for himself the year prior. His big league debut that season was forgettable. He pitched 16 major league innings, striking out three, walking seven while allowing 23 hits and 12 runs.
The next two seasons at the big league level were more of the same. Three short stints in the big leagues have racked up 6-16 record, a 6.50 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Those are hardly the numbers of someone once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the system. When you add on his .327 batting average against and a 5.29 strikeout per nine as opposed to a 3.95 walks per nine, nothing seemingly went right for Butler.
What is equally disturbing is that the blame can’t be solely placed on Coors Field. Butler struggled mightily on the road as well. Butler allowed six of his 13 home runs allowed away from Denver last year, and posted an unacceptable 5.30 ERA. Opponents hit Butler more at home (.389 BAA in Coors as opposed to .273 on the road), but he still struggled.
Butler pitched the majority of last season out of the bullpen, something new for him. The recent signing of Greg Holland allowed the Rockies to move on from the Butler experiment. Despite the poor numbers from the past two seasons, there is no denying that he will get a second chance somewhere just two years removed from elite prospect status.
Maybe the Rockies moved Butler too quickly. Maybe he never really learned how to pitch, an art that seems like one would have to master to find success in the thin air of Colorado. The facts are simple. Butler has been hittable since his earliest minor league success. He was able get out of a lot of jams by limiting walks, striking out roughly one per inning and stranding a lot of runners.
None of those attributes — aside from being very hittable — came to fruition in the big leagues. He simply struggled to miss bats. With little reports of his stuff dissipating, he could simply be the kind of guy who needs a change of scenery. Someone who needs to go to a pitcher friendly environment, like Atlanta or Tampa, and see if he can find his way once again.