Colorado Rockies Trade Eddie Butler To Chicago Cubs
By Nolan Lees
The frustrating relationship between the Colorado Rockies and one of their former top pitching prospects finally came to an end earlier today.
On Wednesday morning, the Colorado Rockies announced a trade that sent Eddie Butler, a 25-year old right-handed pitcher that was formerly considered one of the franchise’s most promising arms, to the Chicago Cubs.
As the tweet above said, the Rockies received James Farris (another right-handed pitcher), and exchanged their international slots, which effectively gives the Rockies about $255K more to spend on international free agency.
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In Farris, Colorado gets a somewhat intriguing flyer on a guy who has posted big K/9 rates in the lower levels of the minors. Farris had a 2.59 ERA and a WHIP below one across Single and Double-A in 2016, so if he continues to throw well in 2017, he may get a chance in the Rockies bullpen at some point.
But let’s be real: Farris isn’t anyone’s idea of a top prospect. He’s never been featured on any of the Cubs top prospect lists, and he’s somewhat old (25 on April 4th) for a guy that only has 36 career innings at a level higher than A-Ball. If there’s a guy in this trade that could be considered a “big name”, it’s the guy heading to Chicago.
Colorado drafted Butler out of Radford University in 2012 with the 46th overall pick. In 2013, he had a microscopic 1.98 ERA across three different levels and started appearing on top prospect lists across baseball. In their 2014 preseason prospect rankings, Baseball America had Butler 24th, ahead of future MLB All-Stars like Aaron Sanchez, Rougned Odor, and Corey Seager.
But Butler’s dominance in the lower levels of the minors has yet to translate to sustained success at the MLB, or even Triple-A level. Butler’s career ERA in minor league levels lower than Double-A is below 3, but his ERA in Triple-A is 5.03, and against MLB hitters, it’s a ghastly 6.50.
Because of that sudden large jump, more than a few people have chalked Butler up as another victim of altitude, as if playing games in the thin mountain air of Denver, Colorado Springs and Albuquerque renders a pitcher incapable of ever reaching his potential.
This feels like a stretch. Butler would probably do a bit better if he was playing his home games in San Diego (what pitcher wouldn’t?). But suggesting that he’d be on his way to MLB stardom if he had only been drafted somewhere else is ignoring some pretty fundamental flaws in Butler’s game.
If you’ve read my work regularly, you may have noticed I generally tend to be down on pitchers that don’t get many strikeouts in the minor leagues. That’s because, more often than not, if a pitcher doesn’t have the type of stuff to generate empty swings against minor leaguers, he’ll struggle to fool the elite talent found in MLB lineups.
This has been Butler’s main problem: it’s been exceedingly difficult for him to get pitches past the best hitters in the game. In three MLB seasons, when hitters have swung at Butler’s pitches, they’ve made contact 84.7% of the time. For comparison, the MLB average last season was 78.2%.
So, Butler isn’t a strikeout pitcher and likely never will be. That, in of itself, is not a death sentence for his career. But with so many balls being put into play against him, it’s absolutely vital that Butler limits the number of free base runners he allows. That, however, has also not come easily to Butler; he has a career 4.0 BB/9 at the MLB level, a mark that indicates below-average command of the strike zone.
You can still be an effective MLB pitcher if you don’t strike a lot of guys out OR if you walk more guys than average. But you can’t be an effective pitcher at any level if you’re not doing EITHER of those things.
Butler will now be free of the specter of Coors Field and the Rockies dubious relationship with pitching. Perhaps in Chicago, with a different set of coaches and expectations, he’ll be able to make changes and get his career back on track.
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Make no mistake about it though: it’s going to take a lot more than a simple change of scenery for Butler to live up to the potential many once felt that he had.