Much of the attention recently has been on Jon Gray. That makes a lot of sense, because Gray is the Rockies’ best pitching prospect ever, is the number one prospect in the system, is pitching to a 2.98 ERA, and has a 38:7 strikeout to walk rate in his first eight AA starts. But the point of this post isn’t to talk about Jon Gray. Rather, it’s about the two guys who are, in my opinion, the second and third best prospects in this system. Gray might be the future ace, but Eddie Butler and David Dahl, the Rockies’ top two picks in the 2012 draft, are also going to be big contributors if they continue on their current track. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to what they are doing in AA and A-ball, respectively.
If you happen to be in Tulsa on a business trip or to visit family or for vacation (do people vacation in Tulsa?) or just because you want to see Jon Gray pitch, just stay for one extra day and watch Eddie Butler. Butler, who fired a seven inning, no run gem in his last start previous to last night, has the look of a future solid starter, if not an ace. His ERA is, believe it or not, 3o points lower than Gray’s 2.98. Unfortunately, though, his peripheral stats do not paint a picture as bright as that 2.68 ERA. The main worry is that the strikeouts, which had been consistent if not elite through last season, are way down. He’s struck out just 33 guys in 57 innings this year. He’s also gotten hit a little bit harder in his first full season in AA. After giving up just 5.8 hits per nine innings last year, that’s up to 7.9 this season.
So how has he maintained a sub-three ERA? I suspect that a little bit of it is luck, and Butler might be due for a poor outing or two, although he has already had one very poor outing (he gave up 11 hits in one game). But I also don’t think we should be too worried. It would be one thing if a strikeout-reliant prospect all of a sudden stopped striking guys out. Butler isn’t that guy, which is a good thing. Instead, he relies on getting soft contact, and he’s been getting that for the most part. In fact, Butler’s start last night was a true representation of the type of pitcher he is right now, although his control was a little off. He went 5.2 innings and gave up three hits while walking four and striking out just two. That seems like a poor outing, but believe it or not, Butler gave up just one run, and that run was unearned. That has been Butler this season. What can we take away from Eddie Butler’s first nine starts of the season? I don’t think he’s ready to pitch in Coors yet, and I don’t think he’ll ever be an ace, but Butler looks pretty solid and seems en route to being a reliable mid-rotation starter.
I’ve been even more impressed with David Dahl, who is playing in Asheville, North Carolina. You probably remember that Dahl had a poor season last year. If you don’t, I’ll give you a quick recap. Dahl missed a team flight and got suspended earlier the season, then tore his hamstring and ended up with just 42 plate appearances. That, for all intents and purposes, seems to be behind in. It’s important to realize that, despite the lost year, Dahl is still just 20 years old. The missed year doesn’t hurt his future potential at all, just delays things a little bit. More importantly, Dahl has gotten back to smoking the ball this year and confirmed many people’s belief (mine included; I’ve been a Dahl fan since the Rockies drafted him in the first round of the 2012 draft) that he has the potential to be a five-tool player and possible star in the big leagues. He’s hitting .275 and has already slugged eight homers and stolen 10 bases in just 171 plate appearances. That’s 30 homer- 30 steal potential, and pair that with good defense and you have someone who is shooting up prospect lists as we speak.
With all that being said, Dahl is putting these numbers up in A ball and not AAA, and he’s still a few years off. His walk rate is disappointing, and it will need to improve if he wants to be a future leadoff or two-hole hitter (he’s hitting leadoff in Asheville). For the moment, all that matters is that Dahl is playing well right now and has the potential to be a top-20 prospect and eventual five-tool player for the Rockies.
Jon Gray is rightfully the center of attention, but Eddie Butler and David Dahl have also played very well this season. All of a sudden, the Rockies have a system that is ripe with promising prospects. We probably won’t see Butler or Dahl contribute in a major way this season, but they could be mainstays by 2015 and 2016, respectively. In the meantime, keep an eye out on these young stars.