Let me begin by saying that I have absolutely zero information suggesting that the Rockies are looking into deploying either Jon Gray or Eddie Butler out of their major league bullpen at any point in 2014.
I will also say that that I am weary of the notion that either might get stuck there (a la Neftali Feliz and Aroldis Chapman) or in the case of Feliz, have their development hindered by an altering of their job description and responsibilities.
The number one issue I've heard most oft repeated as an area of concern for this team is the quality of their relief corps. While I think some of this is a bit overblown, others see it as a reason for exploring a trade of Michael Cuddyer or Corey Dickerson (or almost any other member of the outfield).
I have argued that Cuddyer (and maybe even a prospect) is unlikely to net an elite closer (think: Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel).
I still like -- and ultimately think the Rockies are more likely to go with -- the idea that if/when one of these guys is called up it should just push Juan Nicasio or Franklin Morales back into a relief role. However, I'm not sure this is the best answer. Nicasio I could see eventually blooming into a decent set-up man or even potentially a closer. Franklin Morales, as much as I've defended him, is not someone I want regularly coming into high-leverage situations.
But many baseball people (myself included) feel much more comfortable, especially if you expect your team to compete, having someone in the bullpen who scares opponents. Kimbrel and Chapman scare people.
The closest thing the Rockies have to this right now is Adam Ottavino who has been spectacular, but still doesn't quite fit that mold. The few times he hasn't shown tremendous control of that slider, he's had a tendency to get hit hard because of how long the pitch can stay in the zone.
I love Ottavino as a set-up guy, but if the Rockies really want someone who has the ability to scare hitters and don't want to deplete their depth via a trade to get it, then a call down to Tulsa might be in order.
Ideally, Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, and Jordan Lyles have cemented themselves into the top of the rotation. Juan Nicasio and Franklin Morales will need to stay in the rotation as long as both Tyler Chatwood and Brett Anderson are on the DL, unless the Rockies dip into the farm.
This could mean a call to Daniel Winkler, moving Morales into the bullpen. As the season continues into July, and if the Rockies remain competitive, the team could have a rotation that boasts the top three we discussed and Winkler, Chatwood, Anderson, Gray, and Butler -- and maybe even to some degree Tyler Matzek -- fighting for the last two spots.
This is assuming that by the end of the season Franklin Morales will be in the pen and not in the rotation.
Of those six pitchers fighting for two spots in the rotation, three make some sense in the bullpen.
Matzek has wicked stuff and the ability to miss bats, but his high walk rates should preclude him from high-leverage situations at first. Still, he may get a shot at a middle-relief role should the guys who occupy that spot now falter.
Which bring us to the crux of this article. Both Gray and Butler possess the ability to pitch in the high-90s with heavy movement and sink. Both pitchers are considered pivotal to the Rockies' future, and as such, the team wants to be careful with their early development.
Remember the conundrum that the Washington Nationals got themselves into with an innings limit for Stephen Strasburg? The Rockies could go a long way toward avoiding a similar situation by asking their top prospects to only pitch an inning at a time early in their careers, not unlike what Adam Wainwright and David Price did upon their arrival in the majors. The decreased workload for Gray and Butler could pay off down the line while still giving them a chance to get acclimated to the MLB level.
Another benefit to this plan would be lowering their level of responsibility upon being called up. When you hand the ball to a starter and ask him to get at least six or seven innings, you are placing the fate of that game in his hands barring offensive dominance.
Ultimately, I see this working out best for Gray and see Butler as the ideal fifth rotation guy. Though, if Winkler somehow manages to grab onto a spot by being given a chance before either of them -- or if by some miracle both Chatwood and Anderson get healthy and pitch effectively -- the duo should be looked at as a decent option for the 'pen.
Obviously, there are a lot of moving pieces here and the Rockies have time to figure this out. One or both could end up in the rotation or the bullpen or in Tulsa all year (especially if the Rockies collapse).
But for a team in the hunt, Gray's 100 MPH fastball with a wipe-out slider (with matching Ricky Vaughn-style glasses) coming out of the back of the bullpen might just be the edge this team needs in the one area they have lacked it this season.
Or how about a 98 MPH fastball with six inches of biting, sinking break backed up by a fall-off-the-table change-up from Eddie Butler?
My best case scenario for this team's pitching staff if they are competitive going into August:
Jorge de la Rosa
Tyler Chatwood/Brett Anderson (assuming only one is healthy)
Eddie Butler (moved to 'pen if both Chatwood and Anderson are healthy)
In the event of bullpen usage, Gray and Butler would start off in lower leverage situations, moving them into higher and higher ones, letting results decide their ultimate role. And if the team keeps them stretched out properly and/or uses the other guys mentioned above as reasonable links in between changing roles (take a week to get stretched out while Winkler/Nicasio/Morales give a spot start), they could still move to the rotation in the event that another injury occurs.
Or maybe Gray and Butler start in the rotation before the returns of Chatwood and Anderson (or in the event that there are no returns of Chatwood and Anderson) and are moved into the bullpen later. In that event, Butler would move up to fourth rotation spot, Gray to fifth and Nicasio becomes the best hope for a fear-inducing bullpen guy.
I'm not exactly sure of the best mechanics but it seems to me that, given his skill set and their needs, the Rockies should not rule out unleashing the Gray Wolf from the 'pen.
When you've been fighting and scratching to stay in a close game against a team with an annoyingly persistent offense (that's us!), the last thing you want to see in the late innings while standing in the batters box is a 6'4, 240-pound man with triple-digit heat slow-jogging to the mound.
So the question the Rockies have to ask themselves is: would deploying Gray and/or from the bullpen be more of a detriment to this team and/or their development than trading one of their current chips for help from the outside? Or, is the bullpen fine how it is?