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Eddie Butler could be the next Wade Davis

Taking a look at one possible career path for Eddie Butler, one the World Series champions used to great success.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies have a conundrum, and his name is Eddie Butler.

Butler has been a highly-touted prospect throughout his minor league career, ranked as high as No. 24 in the league by Baseball America prior to the 2014 season, a period which also saw him achieve his highest-ever ranking on a PuRPs list at No. 2.

However, the 24-year-old has seen a rough beginning to his big league career. In 19 career starts at the major league level, Butler has posted a 6.04 ERA, 1.83 WHIP and a 5.86 FIP in 95⅓ innings, walking 49 and striking out just 47. The more advanced numbers are not pretty either, as Butler sports an xFIP of 5.19 and an ERA+ of 76 in his brief big league career.

There is still plenty of time for Butler to turn things around, plenty of pitchers have struggled at his age and come good, but the numbers are concerning.

Looking at Butler's stats, especially the five strikeouts per nine innings, I am reminded of another highly-touted prospect that struggled to adjust to the big leagues as a starting pitcher, Wade Davis.

A third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004, Davis, like Butler, was well-thought of as he rose through the minors, reaching No.15 on Baseball Prospectus' top 100 prospects in baseball list prior to the 2008 season.

Davis, like Butler, struggled early in his big league career, especially in 2011 when as a 25-year-old he had a 4.45 ERA and 1.38 WHIP to go with a 4.67 FIP in 184 innings for the Rays, walking 63 and striking out 105. He had an xFIP of 4.82 and an ERA+ of just 85 that season.

The issues that plagued Davis early in his career are the same ones Butler is dealing with now: a lack of strikeouts—Davis struck out 6.3 batters per nine innings in his 88 career starts and just 5.1 per nine in 2011—and a lack of variation in velocity between his fastball and off-speed pitches.

Butler's issues with velocity have been well-documented among Rockies fans and media. In 2015, his fastball clocked in at 93.4 miles per hour on average, compared to an average of 86.1 miles per hour on his slider, 87.0 miles per hour with his changeup and 79.9 miles per hour on his curveball.

Compare those numbers to Davis in 2011, who averaged 91.8 miles per hour with his fastball, 86.0 miles per hour on both his slider and changeup and 78.6 miles per hour with his curveball, though he did use the curve more frequently than did Butler in 2015.

After his struggles in 2011, the Rays moved Davis to the bullpen in 2012. He made 54 appearances for Tampa Bay that season, with a 2.43 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 70⅓ innings, walking 29 and striking out 87. As importantly as cutting his ERA by two runs, Davis more than doubled his strikeouts per nine innings from 2011 to 2012, striking out 11.1 hitters per nine innings in his first full season as a reliever.

Davis joined the Royals as part of the James Shields trade. He returned to the starting rotation for the 2013 season, his first with Kansas City, and it did not go well. In 24 starts for the Royals, he had a 5.67 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in 125⅓ innings, positively Butler-esque numbers. He did, however, make seven relief appearances in 2013, allowing just one run in 10 innings out of the bullpen.

The move to the bullpen was made permanent for Davis in 2014, and he has been a standout reliever for the Royals over the last two seasons. In 140 appearances over the last two seasons, he has a 0.97 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 139⅓ innings with 187 strikeouts, or 12.1 per nine innings. He also pitched 10⅔ shutout innings in the 2015 postseason, earning four saves and helping the Royals claim their first World Series victory in 30 years.

A relief role as also seen Davis' fastball velocity rise by four miles per hour from his 91.8 mark in 2011 to 95.8 in 2015. He has also cut down to one off-speed pitch, a knuckle curve.

If Butler could do the same, increase his fastball into the 97 mile per hour range and focus on developing the changeup that once made Xander Bogaerts look like a fool in the Futures Game, there are the makings of a dominant reliever there. The Rockies also have experience in this area, as two of their most reliable relievers in recent years, Matt Belisle and Adam Ottavino, were both converted starters.

While there is still ample time for Butler to work things out as a starter, Davis did not permanently shift to the bullpen until his age 28 season. The relief route is certainly a viable one for Butler down the road. The decision to make that change could be made easier if other Rockies pitching prospects—Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Kyle Freeland, etc.—can cement spots in the rotation over the next couple years.

A strong bullpen seems to be vital to success in baseball in the 2010s, and Butler could prove a valuable piece of that puzzle on the next Rockies contender.