With the draft less than a month away, most people would expect the lion’s share of scouts in the central North Carolina area on Friday night to attend Duke’s surefire first-rounder Marcus Stroman’s start versus North Carolina. Yet more than a dozen talent evaluators, including scouting directors, national crosscheckers and regional crosscheckers, traveled to bucolic Buies Creek, N.C., to watch Radford University righthander Eddie Butler, a potential second-round pick, face Campbell University.
The Big South Conference’s second-rated prospect, according to Baseball America's preseason rankings, entered his second to last start of the regular season boasting a 1.94 ERA, supported by 74 strikeouts and 21 walks in 79 innings.
Butler’s start left something to be desired due to subpar game performance and inconsistent stuff. The junior allowed five runs in five innings, allowing 10 hits and registering his fourth loss of the season. To be fair, despite zero official errors, Radford’s defense was porous as defensive miscues routinely occurred with men on base.
The most frustrating aspect of Butler’s start, from the scout’s perspective, was his inability to strike out hitters. Butler did not allow a free pass but registered only two strikeouts on the evening against a team that has struck out in 14 percent of its plate appearances. Both strikeouts came via Campbell’s No. 9 hitter, who is slugging .241 this season.
Standing 6-foot-2 with a lean and athletic build, Butler possesses arm strength that's capable of turning scouts' head. Butler’s fastball sat 93-94 mph, occasionally hitting 95 and 96 and this velocity did not dissipate later in his outing. The righthander throws from a low three-quarter arm slot but his arm-side movement wavers from pitch to pitch. Despite the impressive velocity, Butler recorded only two swinging strikes on his 56 fastballs thrown. At times, Butler’s fastball lacked downward plane to the plate.
To reach these velocities, Butler’s delivery has a slight head whack and some additional effort. His arm path is also long in the back of his delivery.
The Virginia native threw two different breaking balls throughout the night, a slider from 78-81 and a curveball from 71-74, although Butler predominantly relied on his slider. This slider consistently lacked vertical movement, as Butler frequently got around on the pitch causing its plane to flatten. Hitters were not fooled by the sweeping slider, as an adept hitter could recognize the pitch out of his hand and the pitch lacked bite and late-breaking movement.
Butler’s low-70s curveball had a similar shape to his slider with slightly more vertical movement. Scouts in attendance commented that Butler was seemingly caught in between the two pitches, as the pitches failed to differentiate from one another. Butler only threw one changeup on Friday night.
On Friday night, these breaking balls were below-average pitches. Strangely, for someone pitching with an above-average fastball against a small school opponent, Butler seemingly pitched backward after the first inning, beginning nearly half the at-bats throwing his slider.
Despite the disappointing outing, scouts will still be attracted to Butler's arm strength and he could get drafted in the first few rounds in June.