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Rockies prospect rankings: No. 3 Eddie Butler entering a pivotal year

Butler needs to prove 2014 was an anomaly. The Rockies better hope that was the case.

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Editor's note: We've made a change with the PuRPs list this year, deciding to unveil each player individually over the course of a few weeks. To keep track of the rankings, keep checking our PuRPs list StoryStream.

PuRP No. 3: Eddie Butler (447 points, 16 ballots) | Summer 2014 Ranking: 3 | High Ballot 1 (1), Mode Ballot 2, 3

Butler, a 23-year-old right-hander who spent time in 2014 at four different levels, didn't have exactly the year that many were projecting for him. After all, Butler was simply untouchable in 2013. Across three levels (Low-A, High-A and Double-A), Butler went 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and a very respectable 8.6 K/9 in 150 innings pitched. The crazy thing was that in his six starts for Double-A Tulsa, Butler was even more impressive, posting an 0.65 ERA and 0.68 WHIP in 28 IP. He pitched so well early in the year that the Rockies cautiously place him on a five-inning limit for most of his time in Modesto and Tulsa.

That kind of year came with some great accolades. Butler made his way into Keith Law's preseason top 20 prospect list (among others) and earned a spot in the MLB Futures Game, where he struck out fellow top prospect Xander Bogaerts on the three preposterous pitches that comprise his arsenal (slider, fastball and changeup). Don't watch those GIFs if you can't handle the truth. Everything came up Milhouse for Butler in 2013.

In 2014, the Rockies appeared to be limiting Butler's arsenal to focus on developing some pitches, which was a contributing factor in reducing his K/9 rate to 5.3 from the 8.6 mark he had posted in 2013. Even so, when he was (controversially around these parts) called up to the big club in June (supposedly for good), Butler had posted a 2.61 ERA in 68 2/3 innings over 11 starts for Tulsa.

Unfortunately, Butler's major league debut came at home against a stacked Dodgers lineup, against which he struggled mightily through 5⅓ innings. Immediately thereafter, Butler went on the disabled list with rotator cuff inflammation. Supposedly, one of the reasons this happened is because the Rockies had never worked with Butler on developing a standardized routine between starts with shorter rest on his way up through the minors. Hmm ...

After a couple of rehab starts at Modesto and in Colorado Springs, Butler was activated from the DL and optioned back to Tulsa. Unfortunately, down the stretch Butler struggled to a 5.92 ERA in his remaining games with Tulsa before making his way back to the big league level to deliver a quality start against the Diamondbacks and a stinker against the Dodgers. In all, it was not an encouraging way to end the year. Let's hope that Butler is able to continue to grow as a pitcher and come back to the big league level looking more like the one we saw in the 2013 Futures Game.

Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs still rated Butler third in the system, giving him a 55 Future Value (No. 3 starter) grade:

Butler's stuff took a step forward since being drafted, with his velocity settling a tick or two higher (93-95, touching 97 mph consistently) than it did and his off-speed stuff jumping a notch as well. He's in a dead heat with Gray to be #1 on this list, but the separator for scouts is that they are worried about Butler's durability. He's had a lot of minor dings and there's doubt he can hold up for 200 innings, though everything is there for him to be a starter. If he has to move to the bullpen he could be a closer, with a fastball that's been up to 99 mph and a knockout changeup, but Colorado will give him every chance to prove he can stay in the rotation. The slider has been a 55 in the past but scouts have said it's only been average this year.

Nick Faleris of Baseball Prospectus had Butler fourth in the system, also giving him a 55 grade:

Strengths: Mid- to upper-90s fastball that comes with arm-side dip and dance; change has shown double-plus potential in the past, mirroring two-seam fastball action and coming with arm speed and slot deception; long limbs with projection remaining in frame; slider can play above average off fastball plane; arsenal heavy across the board; has shown solid feel for zone with all offerings.

Weaknesses: Stuff backed up in 2014 with slider often showing flat and change losing some bite and handle; inconsistent timing and release exacerbated inconsistencies tied to crossfire release and regularly birthed choppy secondaries and loosened command; shoulder issues and lagging physical maturation strengthen case for future fit in the bullpen.

After breaking out with a dominant 2013, Butler saw the ugly side of the prospect coin this past season with injury and discomfort with mechanical tweaks combining to sap some of the pop from his arsenal and leaving him hittable. Because of the weight of Butler's multi-look fastball and quality change, the lanky righty remained difficult to lift even when his stuff found too much of the plate. But the incendiary arsenal that was a mainstay two summers prior played tepid in 2014, and the Rockies' attempts to soften his finish and regulate his tempo did little to assist Butler in finding more ease in his arm action or precision with his pitches.

Should Butler shift to the pen, his fastball and changeup could allow him to handle high-leverage situations with aplomb, particularly if he can get back to pounding the bottom of the strike zone where both pitches are most effective. Butler could begin 2015 back in Double-A provided he returns to camp with his shoulder issues firmly in the rearview. A return to Colorado this summer isn't out of the question if he can rediscover the explosive stuff that captivated evaluators just 18 short months ago.

Despite the sturm and drang surrounding his second half of 2014, it's important to remember that Butler very well could be one of the best pitchers the Rockies send out to the mound in 2015 (in a good way, not because there's another injury apocalypse). That's a large reason why I placed Butler second on my PuRPs list this time around and why Colorado might have better pitching than people give it credit for. WIth that said, I think Butler starts the year just off of the big league roster in either Albuquerque or New Britain, getting the call-up when the need arises.

Contract Status: 2012 supplemental first round, 40-man Roster, two options remaining

MLB ETA: Now-ish