I’ve been a little out of the loop this week, because I’m a teacher, and it’s that time of year when commencement ceremonies and bidding farewell to my friends while they jaunt off to Europe take up a lot of my time. So I was quite unambiguously shocked when I flipped on the radio last night to catch a bit of the Rockies game while in the car, and I heard Jack Corrigan say that Eddie Butler is being called up for a Friday start at Coors Field.
Don’t get me wrong. I am STOKED about Butler. He and Jon Gray are the only pitchers in the system that we Rockies fans have ever really been able to get excited about. We have World Series trophies dancing in our eyes when we think about 2016, 2017, maybe even 2015. Combine two dynamite starters like that with a few solid back end options like Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood, and Jordan Lyles, add a heaping dose of the Rockies’ killer offense, cross your fingers over the bullpen, and that’s a division title waiting to happen, if not a championship.
The mantra is that pitching wins championships, and that’s the best explanation I have for why the Rockies fell apart in 2007. The Red Sox’ pitching was just better. If we’re going to be relevant in the postseason, we must have somebody like Butler.
The problem is, I don’t think the Rockies are quite ready for relevance, and I don’t think Butler is quite ready for the Rockies. After a fantastic first few weeks out of the gates, the team has been slowly slinking toward, at best, mediocrity. I mean, they lost to the Diamondbacks last night, one of the worst teams in baseball, at home, after an off day, against a pitcher who is only pretty good. It was an ugly sign. Coming off such an abysmal road trip, the Rockies should have been ready to make a statement. If they did make one, it was that they are not the team we were hoping they had finally become. It’s not a playoff year, guys.
We’ve got a decent shot at finishing over .500, and we’re too good to sink back to 2012 levels. But we’re not good enough to make the postseason, and even if we were, the Giants are stupid lucky. We can’t compete with that.
As for Butler, I know his AA numbers are incredible. He’s had a lot of top-notch starts, mixed in with a few tough ones. But AA is such a far cry from MLB. I’m not saying a player should never come straight from AA, because there are those who have done so with success. There are even those, such as Jim Abbott, who never played in the minors at all. There is a reason for the AAA level, though. It’s not just a storage closet for guys who are on the 40-man but not the 25-man and need to be kept warm in case of injury at the big league level. It’s an important step in the development of most players.
The other Rockies pitchers who have skipped AAA in the last few years have not performed well. Chad Bettis has already been demoted to the bullpen and is now spending time in the Springs. Could his demotion have been avoided if he had spent time there before he came to Denver? I’m a member of the camp that believes Bettis profiles better as a reliever anyway, but maybe he’d be making an impact at the big league level instead of trying to get his act together if they’d moved him up in order. Juan Nicasio came up in 2011 and was impressive. He also suffered a horrifying neck injury and made a miraculous comeback, so he’s not your ordinary player in any sense. It’s difficult to make generalizations based on Nicasio.
And then there’s Nolan Arenado, who didn’t skip AAA but spent very little time there, and clearly wasn’t ready when he was called up early in the 2013 season. He was spectacular on defense but really struggled at the plate. His meh .706 OPS and 72 K’s in 133 games meant he wasn’t much of an offensive help. He seems to have found his bat this year–would he have found it sooner last year with a little more training and development? It’s a hypothetical and therefore impossible to know, but my guess is yes.
I’m worried about Eddie Butler. Yes, the Rockies need a starting pitcher now. I don’t want Franklin Morales to start another game anymore than you do. But I don’t think Butler is the right call. I’d rather see Daniel Winkler. Tyler Matzek‘s name has been tossed around, but he’s another guy that we have a lot invested in, so I’m okay with giving him more time. Winkler doesn’t have to be great to be worth more than he initially appeared to be. He could be the stopgap the Rockies need right now. I really hope that Butler will get the coaching he needs at this level to avoid the pitfalls of skipping AAA.