Butler didn’t do it – for Rockies, at least
mesa, ariz.» Eddie Butler always wore an air that he had no worries when he skipped over the first-base line on his way to the mound at Coors Field. When he hurdled the chalk at Sloan Park this week, though, something nagged at the red-headed right-hander.
Butler, once the Rockies’ top pitching prospect, was set to throw for the world champion Chicago Cubs against his former team for the first time, to hitters he sat beside on minor-league bus rides last summer. What is the protocol for that kind of awkwardness? “It was definitely weird,” Butler said. “My biggest thing, OK, I’m playing against them today out of the bullpen. Do I say hi to the guys? Do I cold-shoulder them? I was very unsure.”
A move from perennial bottom-feeder to World Series champion ripped Butler’s offseason apart. The Rockies in February traded him to the Cubs for right-handed relief prospect James Farris and a higher international draft slot.
The Rockies are set this season to start a pitching rotation with an average age near 25. Butler will be more experienced than four of those pitchers and older than three. Colorado’s compensational first-round draft pick in 2012 is both a warning flag for relying on prospects and a missed opportunity. Colorado is still undecided on two rotation spots less than three weeks from its season opener.
Butler is pitching for the Cubs’ fifth starting spot. Odds are long that he gets it. But when he walked out of the bullpen Sunday against the Rockies, nobody was holding his breath with nervousness.
“The guys here aren’t like, ‘Oh, here we go,’ ” Butler said. “I don’t know if it was ever
like that in Colorado. But it’s still that new feeling like all these guys have my back right now. They’re all Team Eddie. It’s great to get a new start. And everybody is pumped.”
Chicago coveted Butler ever since his draft year. It just didn’t think he was a first-round pick. The Cubs’ front office finally found its chance to get him after he failed in Colorado. Butler went 3-10 with a 5.90 ERA in 2015, the year he was expected to break through. Last season, after struggling again in the rotation, he was bounced to the bullpen, then back to Triple-A.
In three abbreviated seasons, he went 6-16 with a 6.50 ERA. By the end of his Rockies career, he looked much different on the mound from his draft-age self. He was more upright and stiff, with a higher release point. And the Rockies moved him away from throwing his best pitch, a twoseam sinking fastball.
“The Cubs wanted me. They wanted to get me right,” Butler said. “They wanted me to get back to throwing sinkers, throwing downhill.”
In that Cactus League game against the Rockies, Butler faced six batters, inducing five groundouts and a flyball out on a changeup.
“He has a fantastic arm,” Chicago manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune. “He’s definitely in the running down the road. Or if something were to happen, who knows?”
The Rockies always said the same. Butler was their future. They loved his arm. Butler was one half of their great hope. Jon Gray, who may be Colorado’s opening-day starter, was drafted with the third pick in 2013. Immediately, the Rockies’ turnaround fell to the singular tag team — “ButlerandGray.”
“Oh, I know. There was a lot of that,” said Gray, who led the Rockies in strikeouts last season with 185. He is poised to be the staff ace this year. Butler will have to do on his own elsewhere.
“I’m sure he was on cloud nine. He seems like he’s having a good time,” Gray said. “It was the best thing that could happen to his career. I don’t think there should be anyone upset about it.”
Instead of trying to lead a young rotation in Colorado, Butler will continue to learn in a group that includes established veteran Jake Arrieta, who was a similarly struggling 27-year-old when he was traded to the Cubs in 2013. He won a Cy Young Award two years later.
“He’s over here now for a reason,” Arrieta said of Butler. “He fits in well. Everything is here to really help him access his ability on a consistent basis. He’s in a good environment here.”
The Rockies are all in on a youth pitching movement, with a stockpile led by Gray. It is risky, as they learned with Butler.
“I understand I didn’t throw well there,” Butler said. “There will be a time when they say ‘What if?’ But that’s baseball. There’s no perfect equation. It’s tough. You just have to keep rolling with what you’ve got.”
Eddie Butler’s strong right arm has caught the attention of Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon this spring. Butler was a Rockies first-round draft pick in 2012. Charlie Riedel, The Associated Press