Gray headlines Rox prospects in Top 100

Righty ranks 16th overall; Butler, Dahl and Freeland also appear on list

Gray headlines Rox prospects in Top 100

DENVER -- The second time on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list could be the charm for Rockies right-handed pitchers Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, two of the four farmhands in the organization to make the cut.

Gray, who spent last season -- his first full professional season -- at Double-A Tulsa and went 10-5 with a 3.91 ERA, is ranked 16th. Butler, who made his Major League debut but battled a right rotator cuff strain while going 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in three big league starts, checks in at No. 35.

Both saw time in Major League Spring Training in 2014, but this year, they are seen as more realistic competitors for a job at the beginning or early during the season.

Top Prospects, Butler, COL

Outfielder David Dahl, the Rockies' top pick in 2012, is ranked 59th, and lefty pitcher Kyle Freeland, last year's top pick, is 60th.

The annual ranking of baseball's Top 100 Prospects is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2015. Team-by-team Top 30 Prospects lists for 2015 will be unveiled in March.

Mayo: Breaking down the Top 100 | Callis: Best tools in the Top 100

Having Gray, Butler and Freeland on the list could bode well for the Rockies' prospects in future seasons. With the combination of a small-to-mid-market payroll and the reluctance for accomplished pitchers to sign because of the difficulties pitching at Coors Field, developing pitching or acquiring young arms is paramount.

But last season, even as the Rockies struggled to a 66-96 record and a fourth-place finish in the National League West, two bright spots were right-hander Jordan Lyles and left-hander Tyler Matzek. Lyles, acquired as part of the deal with the Astros for outfielder Dexter Fowler, and Matzek, the team's No. 1 pick in 2009, are both 24. Lyles is under club control through 2018 and Matzek has less than a year's Major League service time, and could be anchors of a young rotation when the three prospects arrive.

Gray, taken out of Oklahoma with the third overall pick in 2013, and Butler, chosen 46th overall out of Radford University in '12, each are 23. Freeland, whom the Rockies limited to 39 innings during the Minor League regular season after being selected out of Evansville eighth overall, turns 22 on May 14.

Gray's decent numbers last season came during a year of education.

After the 2013 Draft, Gray averaged a whopping 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings in nine starts at the Rookie and Class A levels to spark speculation that he could be ready for the Majors as soon as the middle of the '14 season.

But having to pitch every five days for the first time -- as opposed to once a week in college -- Gray had to learn to function when not feeling his best. At Double-A Tulsa, Gray still managed 8.2 strikeouts per nine against 3.0 walks, but the Rockies kept him out of the Texas League playoffs because of arm fatigue. All reports this winter suggest he is stronger and ready for greater challenges.

Butler showed mid 90s velocity during Spring Training but saw his fastball speed drop to the 88- to 91-mph range early in the year. His strong start to the year at Tulsa and the numerous injuries to the rotation led to a callup in June, but he went to the disabled list after his debut, a loss to the Dodgers. He returned to beat the D-backs at home but had enough soreness after his final start against the Dodgers that the Rockies scratched his Arizona Fall League assignment.

But Butler has spent much of the offseason at the Rockies' complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., working with the club's Minor League strength and conditioning coaches, and is reportedly slightly bigger and much stronger.

In 2012, Dahl earned Pioneer League Most Valuable Player honors at Grand Junction by hitting . 379 with nine homers, 10 triples and 22 doubles. But an early-season disciplinary suspension and a severe hamstring injury limited him to 10 games in 2013.

Top Prospects: Dahl, COL

Dahl regained his groove last season, batting a combined .299 with 14 homers and 63 total extra-base hits at Asheville and Modesto. Dahl has a .364 on-base percentage and .898 OPS in 895 professional plate appearances.

Freeland, who starred at Denver's Thomas Jefferson High school before a successful career at Evansville, went 3-0 with a 1.15 ERA combined in 10 starts at Grand Junction and Asheville. He helped Asheville to the South Atlantic League championship.

Top Prospects: Freeland, COL

The Rockies like his strike zone performance -- 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings against 1.4 walks in his brief pro career.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.