Dominance at the Minor League level can take on many definitions, yet most would include the way Asheville right-hander Eddie Butler pitched in his first two starts of the 2013 season.
The 46th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, who was taken in the supplemental first round by the Rockies, Butler opened the current campaign by limiting West Virginia to one hit and one walk over 5 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the victory on Opening Day. He returned to the bump at Lexington on April 9 and posted a similar performance, scattering two hits while and four walks over six shutout frames.
"I'm feeling pretty good working with [pitching] coach [Joey] Eischen on our mental approach and going after batters," said Butler, ranked by MLB.com as the Rockies' No. 10 prospect. "I'm trying to attack guys with fastballs and put guys away when I have the chance. If I miss my shot, the mind-set is to go right back at them and try to get a ground ball."
After opening the season with 11 1/3 scoreless innings, Butler discovered how much walks can hurt a pitcher, especially in the hitter-friendly confines of McCormick Field. On April 14, he issued four bases on balls and allowed four hits, leading to four earned runs over five innings in a no-decision against the Power. Nevertheless, Butler owns a 2.20 ERA through three starts and ranks fourth in the SAL with an opponents' batting average of .127 and sixth with 17 strikeouts.
His early-season success is consistent with his pro debut last season at Grand Junction, where he went 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 13 outings. Butler paced the Pioneer League in ERA, WHIP (1.06) and opponents' batting average (.230), and allowed only one home run in 68 innings. With the right-field wall residing just 300 feet down the line at McCormick Field, Butler knows he will need to keep the ball down in the strike zone in order to continue his trend of keeping the ball in the park.
"I pitched here a couple of times in college, so I'm familiar with the ballpark," Butler said. "There's a comfort level in being here and being fairly close to home. I'm from Virginia, and by pitching here some of my friends and family might get a chance to see me this season. My mom came out to Grand Junction last year and got to see me in one game."
Butler was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 35th round in 2009 out of Greenbrier Christian Academy in Chesapeake, Va., but never entered serious negotiations with the team. He decided to attend Radford University and watched his velocity blossom to the point where his fastball sits in the 94-96 mph range and has been clocked as high as 99. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup, giving him a four-pitch arsenal to keep hitters off-balance.
"I've always been able to throw hard and maintain good sinking action on my fastball," Butler said. "I know I have to work on the consistency of all my pitches, including my command. But I feel good about where I am and how I'm pitching at this point in my career. I just need to keep improving."
Slugging Stetson: West Virginia first baseman Stetson Allie has destroyed SAL pitching thus far and leads the league in most offensive categories. Through games of April 16, Allie paced the SAL in homers (6), RBIs (18), hits (23), slugging (.804), total bases (45) and extra-base hits (tied 1st, 10) and ranked fourth in batting average (.411) and on-base percentage (.469).
Streaking Shorebirds: Delmarva outfielder Anthony Vega opened the season with a 12-game hitting streak, during which he went 15-for-44 (.341), prior to having it end with an 0-for-5 on April 16. The longest current string is owned by teammate Christian Walker, who has hit safely in 11 straight since April 6, going 17-for-44 (.386).
Not-so-scenic Drive: Greenville scored three runs in the ninth inning Monday, April 15, in an 8-3 loss to West Virginia, snapping a streak of 32 2/3 scoreless innings by the Drive lineup. Greenville has lost four straight games and has a 6-7 record on the season.
Dahl demoted: Asheville outfielder David Dahl was reassigned to extended spring training after going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Opening Day. Dahl, the 10th overall pick in the 2012 Draft and the top prospect in the Rockies' organization, said he was sent down for missing a 6 a.m. flight from Arizona to Asheville prior to the start of the regular season and for his overall attitude.