Rox’s Eddie Butler: Beyond the kid stuff

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Eddie Butler is emerging as one of baseball’s most exciting pitching prospects (Danny Wild/MiLB.com)

By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com

Eddie Butler is 22 years old, but even in a clubhouse full of baseball youngsters, the Rockies’ right-hander seemed strikingly more boyish than your average pro.

Standing in the U.S. clubhouse Sunday at the 2013 Futures Game, the Radford (Va.) University product and 2012 first-round (46th overall) Draft pick stood in front of his locker, eagerly taking in the scene around him. Most of his teammates were being swarmed by a glut of reporters. Those left alone were sitting in their chairs, heads down, checking messages or playing games on their smart phones.

Butler was mostly unbothered by the media frenzy, but rather than retreating back into his chair, he stood, arms crossed, peaking around the room with a sense of impatience. Finally, a reporter approached, and the 6-foot-2, 180-pound hurler extended an arm, and offered a warm hello in a mild Southern accent.

First questions: First time in New York? What have you done since you got in?

“We went into a big old Toys”R”Us,” Butler said, at first straight faced but giving into a light laugh. “There was a huge Ferris wheel inside. I was like, ‘Sweet.’”

Boyish indeed.

The Chesapeake, Va., native eventually turned the conversation to matters more apropos in the clubhouse setting, like his rampant rise up prospect lists and through the Rockies farm system in the first half of this season.

For sure, his pitching is no laughing matter – just ask Xander Bogaerts, who struck out against Butler on three pitches in the sixth inning of the Futures Game on Sunday.

The lanky right-hander began the season with Class A Asheville in the South Atlantic League but didn’t last long. He made nine starts as a Tourist, posting a 5-1 record and a 1.66 ERA while chucking 54 1/3 innings. He struck out 51 and walked 25 in that time, allowing a pair of home runs.

The Rockies bumped him to Class A Advanced Modesto, where little has changed. Through 10 starts, he’s posted a 3.08 ERA over 52 2/3 innings. The right-hander has struck out 55, walked 17 and held opponents to seven homers and a .228 average.

The hurler said before the Futures Game that his hope in Spring Training had been to land with Modesto right out of camp. The trip to Asheville was a disappointment but provided good motivation. Once Butler arrived in Asheville, he figured it would take at least half a season, if not longer, to jump to the California League. The mid-May move up came as a pleasant surprise.

“Obviously, I wanted to break with the Modesto team,” he said. “I didn’t have that happen. Rather than take it as an insult, I took it as a reason to go out and perform even better.”

Butler Dano Keeney MiLB

In his preseason writeup about Butler, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo noted that the right-hander boasted a promising fastball-slider combination, but that his undersized build, iffy command and his lack of a quality third pitch may resign him to the bullpen long term.

Command issues haven’t caused Butler problems to date. He’s walked a respectable 3.53 batters per nine innings this year, including 2.91 since his promotion to Modesto.

Additionally, he’s made strides with some of the more intangible areas of the game that are especially key for starting pitchers. He’s trying to learn more about the scouting and adjustment side of the game, learning how to read hitters better from at-bat to at-bat and also better remember tendencies for guys he may face in multiple games over a season.

“I’ve even started keeping a notebook this year of guys I’ve been facing, especially in High-A, because that’s where they start being a lot better hitters,” Butler said. “They have smaller holes and when you find that hole, you want to know where it is.

“You want to write that down — what you got them out with and what they hurt you with. Definitely, with that aspect, I’ve learned a lot.”

Butler has especially benefited from working in the same rotation as Dan Winkler, who leads the California league in ERA (2.43), wins (12), innings (114 2/3), strikeouts (131) and WHIP (0.85). The 23-year-old has succeeded in large part due to his approach, something that has rubbed off on Butler.

“He leads by example,” Butler said. “He’s attacking the zone, making them put the ball in play and keeping guys off the bases.”

Like Winkler, Butler has been a sinker guy in the past. This season, and especially since his promotion, the straight four-seamer has become a greater piece of his repertoire.

He showcased the pitch on Sunday at the Futures Game when his first offering to Bogaerts clocked in at 97. He worked as high as 99 mph with a heater that Miguel Sano fouled off and routinely sits in the 94-97 mph range when starting.

Butler has made a conscious effort to throw the straight heater more and thinks his ability to locate the pitch glove side – inside to left-handed hitters – is his greatest improvement of the season.

“I’ve never thrown a four-seam really,” Butler said. “I’ve always been a sinker guy. I’ve had it but never really used it. Now, it’s like, all of a sudden at High-A, guys are better hitters and they start laying off of that pitch. They know they’re not going to hit it well, so they don’t want to swing at it.

“All of a sudden, they’re cheating in or they’re getting off the plate or, if it’s in the middle, they’re ready for it, and if you throw it there, they crush it. Being able to work both sides of the plate is a big thing with the organization, and it’s one of the big things I’ve been working with.”

At the Class A Advanced level, there’s still plenty more for Butler to learn and accomplish. He hasn’t thrown more than five innings in any of his past six starts, and the changeup is still behind the fastball and slider – he didn’t throw any changes in his inning at the Futures Game. Time will tell if the durability is there, and the right-hander is continuing to work on all his pitches, including the change, as well as his mental approach.

“Obviously, I’ve had a lot of fun this year,” Butler said. “I got moved up halfway through. That was a big goal of mine, was to make the move. I wasn’t expecting it that early.

“I figured it’d be after the All-Star break, so I was happy with that and happy they gave me the opportunity to do that. Just have to keep going out there and performing the same way.”

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