NEW YORK -- Radford University sits along the south bank of the New River in rural Virginia, a 9,000-student school in the shadow of nearby Virginia Tech. Alumni Ryan Speier and Phil Leftwich each enjoyed brief big league careers after leaving Radford, a school not known for its baseball program.
Coming from that environment, even as the highest Draft pick in Radford history, Rockies pitching prospect Eddie Butler knew he would need to work a little harder than others to be noticed.
"Obviously I wasn't SEC or ACC, so I wasn't facing the same competition day in and day out," Butler said. "Being picked up late in the first round with a supplemental pick, I felt like I maybe needed to prove myself -- and so far I've done that pretty well."
Well enough to earn an invitation to the Futures Game, where he struck out one batter on Sunday over a scoreless inning of relief. Butler entered the game with a 3.08 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 17 walks in 52 2/3 innings for Class A Modesto of the California League, after earning a promotion from Class A Asheville.
The promotion was aggressive for Butler, who is barely a year removed from his last college game. But with nothing left to prove at Asheville, it was also well deserved.
Though the Rockies have had trouble developing successful big league starters throughout their history, Butler believes his signature sinker will help him combat Coors Field's hitter-friendly reputation when he finally arrives in Denver.
He also has plenty of experience succeeding in pitchers' havens, having played extensively at McCormick Field in Asheville -- one of the foremost hitters' parks in Minor League Baseball -- and now the hitter-friendly California League. He is just two stops away from Triple-A Colorado Springs, another hitters' paradise, and three notches away from the Majors.
But Butler also understands that he must improve between now and then, lest he become the latest Rockies pitching prospect to flame out. Butler did not rank within the top 100 players on MLB.com's 2013 Prospect Watch, clocking in ninth amongst Rockies prospects. His strong first half this year has certainly improved his stock, but he remains at least a season and a half away from the big leagues.
"Right now I'm working on consistency with the slider and working on four-seam location, being able to locate it to both sides more consistently," Butler said. "It's definitely been improving."
Continued improvement will help Butler keep moving up the organizational ladder, pitching in front of bigger and bigger crowds as he goes. Coming from Radford, Butler said the largest crowd he has ever seen was the 4,272 fans who showed up to his Cape Cod League championship start in 2011.
Sunday, he played in front of several times that number at Citi Field, soaking in his time as the Rockies' lone Futures Game representative.
"Definitely there's a little bit of weight on my shoulders being the only guy from the organization, but we're a strong organization coming up," Butler said. "We've got good Minor League guys and we'll have a couple more guys out here next year, I'm sure. We'll put on a good show, too."