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Scouting Report: Tony Butler, LHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on August 26, 2006

Butler Has It

By Jason A. Churchill

When the Seattle Mariners put together their draft board this past June, all eyes, ears and sixth senses were on the No. 5 pick.

What was Bob Fontaine and company going to do with the fifth pick in the draft? Well, now that we know, why are so many others talking about the club’s other draftees?

No, it’s not because Brandon Morrow isn’t any good. The Cal-Berkley product has a lot of ability and barring unforeseen health problems, the 6-3, 200-pounder is bound for the big leagues with his 93-97 mph fastball and plus splitter.

Okay, enough of the hometown team’s 2006 first round draft pick already. Their second and third round choices, also pitchers, are just as intriguing, if not more so, considering their age and inexperience versus the stuff each teenager is hurling in each start.

Right-hander Chris Tillman and southpaw Tony Butler (pictured at right) already possess better pure stuff than four of the five starters in Seattle’s major-league rotation right now – and it’s not all that close, not that Jarrod Washburn, Cha Seung Baek and Jake Woods are even sneeze worthy, but these two kids have the arsenal to progress rapidly through the farm system.

Butler, the third round choice by the Mariners, stands 6-7 and tilts the scales at about 210 pounds. The 18-year-old employs a four-seam fastball in the 90-93 mph range, a potentially plus curve ball and a solid change-up for a kid that was pitching in high school just four months ago.

Butler is a hard worker, is very coachable and appears to be as receptive to advice, instruction and criticism as a professional club could ask. But it’s his physical makeup and projectability that excite most scouts.

“Harness it,” said one scout as he sat and watched Butler in his second start with the shortseason Everett Aqua Sox. “Get a hold of that stuff, smooth out the mechanics, nothing major, and watch him grow. All 6-feet whatever of him. It could be fun and would be one hell of a draft pick if he reaches his peak abilities. Lefties aren’t easy to find, especially kids that have command of three pitches.”

Well, command is not something Butler has a hold on just yet. He’s issued 32 walks in just 39 1/3 innings of work, which is red flag territory. But it’s nothing that can’t be ironed out over time, and time is something Butler has. He’s just 18 and won’t turn 19 until November, and will have a nice jump on most other teenage hurlers in pro ball.

“He has been inconsistent quite a bit,” said the scout, citing the lack of a repeated delivery and release point as the main kinks in Butler’s otherwise shiny armor. “In his first stint as a pro, he’s no doubt trying to soak up so much, and it’s probably too much to ask (be consistent and throw strikes). But it’s not like he’s getting hit.

“He’ll have no trouble missing bats in the higher levels, no trouble at all, once he polishes off the little things. I really like what I see in him.”

Butler struggled in that start, a rocky outing in which he walked five and struck out three in 3 2/3 innings, though he allowed just one hit.

Another professional observer, a former National League Central scouting director, was in attendance when Butler tossed five no-hit frames at Tri-City on August 4, fanning nine and walking three others.

“He was pretty strong that night,” he said of Butler, who also threw two wild pitches in that, his third start in the Northwest League, where hitters are typically three to five years older than the M’s new lefty. “He had a good curve ball and while he probably used it a little too much for my liking, he used what was working and that’s more than acceptable. I’d prefer to insert the change in its (curve ball) place, but he has an okay one of those, too.”

Butler’s performance prompted the retired baseball man of 23 years to follow Butler back to Everett where he’d make his fourth Sox start versus Salem-Keizer on August 9.

“I got a little bored with the baseball on the eastern half of the state so I thought I’d make the trip to see this kid again. I’m glad I did. These days I’m just watching for fun, but every once in awhile one of my old clubs will call and ask me if I have seen a certain kid and pitching has always been my area.

“Butler has the biggest upside of any southpaw in any shortseason league,” he added. “I’ve been to see the Appy schedule and the rookie leagues, and Butler overmatched kids down there in Arizona. Now he’s doing it here. Seattle may have one to watch here.”

What would he tell one of his old clubs if they called to ask about Butler?

“Small sample size, but he’s as projectable as any I have seen in the past year or two. Good fastball, stays on top of it for the most part. Decent delivery, but needs to work on finding consistency in his arm slot. More experienced bats might pick up on his offspeed stuff if he doesn’t fix that.

“Uses his height well, but is very athletic in his mechanics. There’s a lot of room there, to his advantage. Overuse of a breaking ball could be dangerous, both to his arm and his approach – and how hitters react to his stuff. Right now, he’s missing a ton of bats despite his control problems, and hitters’ reactions are very… embarassing, weak.

“His first real test will be after an offseason. That’s when things can either come together for the long haul, or show some weaknesses that hadn’t shown up prior. It’s not a make or break thing, just a sign of where he’s really at. Full-season ball is always a challenge for prep kids. I’d want to see how he bounces back in the middle of the minors, in the middle of a season.”

Tools: Now/FutureFastball: 60/75

Butler’s fastball reaches the low 90s, and in time could naturally grow into a mid-90s offering where he can reach back and get to 97 or 98. Velocity isn’t everything, however, as it’s much more critical that he stays on top of his heater and attacks the bottom of the strike zone. He’s already showing as a flyball pitcher, but he can’t let the ratios get out of hand.

His 4-seamer has decent movement, but adding a two-seamer to feed his ground ball ratio wouldn’t be bad idea.

Curve Ball: 55/70

Currently his out pitch, Butler’s curve ball isn’t a true 12-6 breaking ball, but is certainly a curve, not a slider, as has been reported elsewhere. After a 93-mph four-seamer, try hanging in to fight off a 1-7 curve ball with sharp, late action breaking down and out of the zone. Yeah, that’s a good pitch, and it’s only going to get better.

His breaking ball might be his bread and butter and his magic carpet to The Show.

Change: 45/55

The fact that Butler feels good enough about his change-up to throw it as much as he has of late, is a great sign that he understands how important changing speeds truly is for any pitcher.

The club asked him to back off the breaking ball a little bit, so he’s pretty much using fastball-change as he finishes off the year. Considering the fact that he still isn’t getting hit…

Command/Control: 35/55+

This is simple – Butler’s command needs to get better. He must improve his overall control and continue to improve the location of each offering as he progresses through the system.

Delivery/Mechanics: 40/55

This is an important area for all young pitchers as they develop, but for a 6-foot, 7-inch southpaw, mechanics can be the one single most critical aspect of his future as a successful starting pitcher.

A tweak here and an adjustment there is what turned Randy Johnson into a 5-time Cy Young Award winner with a legendary nickname.

OFP: 68.5

There is no reason, at this point, that Butler cannot become a true left-handed power starter with No. 1 or 2 stuff.

MLB Clone: Not sure there is one, judging off the four hours of video I have watched and the five innings I saw him in person. Stylistically, he may be a little like Scott Kazmir, though he profiles somewhat similar results via the vastly different route… at least for now.

Of course, Butler could flame out and turn into nothing. In fact, the chances are that he never touches foot on a big-league mound. But if that happens, it won’t be due to lack of desire or natural ability.

Photo Courtsey of CenterFieldSports


45 Responses to “Scouting Report: Tony Butler, LHP”

  1. dnc said

    Fantastic Jason.

    You like Butler a bit more than Tillman, I’m assuming?

    What in your mind caused Butler to slip to the third round? Did scouts just miss on him, were there signability concerns, makeup issues, injury worries? Seems like a heck of a kid to find in round 3.

    Fontaine rules.

  2. dnc said

    Also, speaking of kids that hurl from the southern side, any updates on Justin Thomas? While Feierebend has come back to earth a bit, Thomas has kept on missing bats. Has Thomas closed the gap on Ryan for best southpaw in the system?

  3. Paul Loeb said

    Actually a question. Brandon Morrow still seems to be at just 11 innings in rookie ball. Is he still injured, or on the injury borderline? And doesn’t this make this potentially a less good signing than originally projected, especially after passing on Andrew Miller?

  4. DIQ said

    Thomas is still in A ball.

    Also since being promoted, his walk rate has increased dramatically.

  5. dnc said

    Yeah, they’ve increased, but he’s still over a 2:1 K:BB rate. Just as importantly, he’s over 9 K/9, suggesting he has the stuff to miss bats.

    He’s one level behind Ryan, and a year older (I believe). However, his K rates suggest somebody with some real upside, which I’m not sure I believe about Feierebend.

  6. The problem with Butler, according to a couple of scouts I know, is that his mechanics seem to be heavy on the shoulder and elbow, which could become a major problem for him. I think you’ve made the correct MLB-comparison Jason, with Scott Kazmir, and Kazmir, by the way, also has a somewhat similar delivery. Kazmir is also seemingly prone to arm/shoulder injuries, and the same concern appears to apply to Butler.

    To quote one of the scouts I know, “Butler has great stuff, but he might not get to show it off because of his heavy mechanics”. It’s quite likely that unless Butler alters his delivery slightly, he could be a Tommy John case somewhere down the line.

    On the plus side, the same scout says “If he can overcome his injury-prone mechanics, he could become an ace, or at least a very effective starter in the next several years”.

    Another comparison, in my opinion, in terms of “stuff” would be Barry Zito.

  7. DIQ said

    The Mariners have shown that even if you have K rates over 9 and a 2:1 K/BB ratio in AAA it doesn’t mean you deserve a shot in their rotation.

  8. Fantastic Jason.

    You like Butler a bit more than Tillman, I’m assuming?–

    Not necessarily, other than that he’s a southpaw and from what I hear is a more coachable kid at this stage. Really good kid from all reports, where Tillman has a little tude to him… but that could end up being good.

    –What in your mind caused Butler to slip to the third round? Did scouts just miss on him, were there signability concerns, makeup issues, injury worries? Seems like a heck of a kid to find in round 3.–

    It was just about three things, really. Command, command, command. And that the draft was weird and guys fell into rounds 2 and 3 that shouldn’t have. One scout I asked said he thought Tillman is one of the top 18 or 20 talents in the entire draft and that Butler should have been a top 40 pick.

    But Miller should have been first, so…

    –Fontaine rules.–

    Yes, yes he does.

  9. Re: Thomas versus Feierabend —

    Their stuff isn’t that different, but Feier is just a smarter pitcher right now and his stuff improves every year.

    Thomas is 2+ years older and though he belongs in AA right now, he’s getting outs – and missing bats – versus far inferior competition in the very, very weak Cal League.

    The Texas League, by comparison, is as good as it’s been offennsively since 2003.

  10. Re: Butler’s mechanics

    You can say that about a lot of pitchers, particularly tall lefthanders – think Matt Thornton, who had TJ surgery and always complained of shoulder issues as a starter.

    The fix tends to be, but is not guaranteed to be, a slightly longer stride with the front foot (right) and an over-exagerrated focus on planting in the same spot every time, and not dragging the throwing arm behind the rest of the motion.

    It’s nothing glaring, like Kerry Collins’ hitch when he came out of Penn State.

    According to the Padres front office and several White Sox and Reds scouts, mechanics had nothing to do with Butler’s draft position, or at least very, very little. Command and long-term role were brought up, but not mechanics.

  11. Re: Paul

    Morrow is just being handled safely since he has already pitched a full college schedule and had some soreness after the layoff.

    He’ll continue to toss an inning here and there for the next few weeks and then take some time off before starting a throwing program around mid January.

    Yeah, the M’s should have taken Miller, but after that, there isn’t much of a downside to the Morrow pick.

    It would have been better if Morrow was able to extend to five or six innings a half dozen times this summer but other than that, I wouldn’t worry too much.

    He’s not a one and done minor leaguer anyways.

  12. Orlandu said

    Good stuff Jason. I really enjoyed it.

  13. Other than a Chris Tillman SR, which looks like a Wednesday thing for me, and a September call-up piece coming tomorrow night (Sunday), what does everyone want to see for the final five weeks?

  14. 2quarters said

    An offseason preview… If possible.

    Also, just for fun, how about a M’s Top Prospect list spring of ’08 (of course, not factoring in the drafts and other international signings that will take place in the coming years and also not counting injury).

  15. 2008? Explain. I dont get how a prospect list for 08 is even possible…

  16. dnc said

    More anaylsit os our lesser known draft picks some of the lower level kids.

    Basically, more of these. 🙂

    BTW “Thomas is 2+ years older” – it’s actually about a year and a half.

  17. i meant 1+…

  18. So, like what kids?

    Liddi and who?

  19. Geoff said


    Thanks for all the great, kind words that you have already and will continue to write about Ryan Feierabend. I attended the same high school as him. However, I graduated from college the year that he graduated from high school, so I never got to see him pitch in high school.

    After graduation from college, I moved to Michigan. I did get to watch him in his one start against the Battle Creek Yankees. I was the official scorekeeper for B.C. at that time. I had a great talk with him before the game that he started.

    I am sure that you will be answering it soon, but my question is, “If Ryan gets the call up to the majors, will it be in a starting role or bullpen role?” I read that you will be posting something to this affect in the coming days, so I will understand if you don’t answer it under this posting.

  20. Ryan is a starter. The misuse of starters as relievers is over, especially with legit starters like Feierabend.

    They will have to be patient with him, he just flipped 21, but when it happens, his role is as a starter.

  21. Grizz said

    Jason, great piece on Butler.

    It looks like there will be a bit of a 40-man roster crunch this offseason. How about a write up on the new 40-man roster candidates and the order in which you would protect the prospects?

  22. That is certainly a piece I will be writing, but probably not until the time comes…

    But yes, great thinking, Grizz. That will be done, for sure.

  23. Matthew said

    How about a what the hell happened to Jeremy Reed post. Has he just been not able to adjust or was there some change in his game from 2/3 years ago?

  24. That’s a good one, Matthew.

    Maybe I can get a dual analysis post going with that…

    BTW, just in case nobody noticed, check out the grip Butler has in that great photo above, taken and shared by centerfieldsports.com.

    Circle change, baby.

  25. Just a technical note — I think you should decrease the size of the picture of Butler slightly, it’s blurred and seems a little stretched out. Making it 3/4 of the size should do the trick.

    Nice to see Greg Maddux isn’t the only one still sticking with the circle change!

  26. Are you using IE, Daniel?

    Cuz via firefox, it looks fine to me.

  27. That’s the best I can do there… it’s 74% the original size… doesn’t look any clearer to me, but, hopefully it works.

  28. Knuckles said

    JAC: Kameron Mickolio. As a short inning reliever, I loved his stuff in Everett. Ground ball macine, he was.

  29. NWBaseball said

    Great post Jason. How about a preview of the offseason. Who do we target, who should play center next year, etc. Also, next years draft. We should have a top ten pick again. I sure didn’t see this team below .500 at the start of the year. I predicted 82-85 wins. I really think this club is more talented than it’s record indicates. Thanks again and keep the articles coming.

  30. Ben said

    Glad you are back and thanks for the Butler piece.

    I would echo the requests for 40-man roster and off-season opinions.

  31. marinermutt said

    Jason, first time poster here but have been reading since you started this site. Check it out each day. I am interested in some of the young players in Arizona or have just been moved from Arizona. Players like Lidi, Avila, Peguero and maybe Dotel. Just wondering if these kids are really prospect types or should I guard myself from getting my hopes up.

    Welcome back and hope everything turned out okay. And keep thinking 5 keepers instead of 4 🙂

  32. Jerry said


    Nice work on the Butler scouting report. It is nice to get detailed qualitative information about him. Seems like the M’s did really well with that pick.

    As far as interesting future topics, I like a lot of the ideas that others have posted: Tillman SR, September callups, 40-man roster analysis, and a look at the lower level guys.

    In particular, the players that I would like to know more about include: Nathan Adcock, Carlos Peguero, Doug Fister, Anthony Varvaro, Doug Salinas, Greg Halman, Gerardo Avila, Alex Liddi, Ronald Garth, Kuo Hui Lo, Michael Saunders, and Wellington Dotel. Nice short list, huh?

    Other cool topics would include:

    -a state of the farm system piece around the time that the minor league seasons wrap up.

    -a draft recap. I know that you have gone over some of the top picks, but it would be cool to look at some of the middle and late round players. In particular, it would be cool to know more about the status of guys who are unsigned, like Cam Nobles, Dan Runzler, Jared Baehl, Tyson Gilles, Fabian Williamson, and Chris Walden.

    -continuing on the draft front, the M’s selected a ton of JC and prep players between picks 31 and 50. I would imagine that a lot of those players will be DFE candidates. It will probably be difficult to find information on them, but it would be cool to look at which of these guys could emerge as top draft and follow signings. Maybe some of the scouts you know could give you the inside scoop on some of them (assuming that they will discuss unsigned players, that is).

    -obviously, an offseason preview will be awesome. But all in good time.

    Anyhow, it is just nice to have you back. The M’s blogosphere just wasn’t the same without PI.

  33. Dan said

    Seconding the “What the hell happened to Jeremy Reed?” post. I mean, what happened, seriously? Offseason stuff would be good too, who we should potentially go after, etc. Love everything your posts, so really whatever you decide on is cool with me.

  34. Eric said

    Jason, you should do a piece on each levels starting staff and throw in some bullpen guys. Just telling us who you like and who to keep an eye on…Then maybe throw in some intriguing hitters.

    Also Im pretty close to Everett and have been to a few games what can you tell me about Schilling, Fister, Uhlmansiek, Orta, and Mickilio….Ive learned alot about the 2 youngster but what of these guys they seem like interesting guys to keep an eye on.

  35. Center Field Sports said

    I have watched Butler pitcher 3 times now, I like his stuff. I think one reason that he sliped to the 3rd round is he only pitched 16 innings in high school. 3 starts!!! there season started in may and ended in early june. Not alot of time for scouts to see your make up. He is a good kid with a good head and is willing to work hard. I know he is asking a TON of ?’s to the more seasoned pitchers about what to do in certain situations.

  36. Katal said

    I’ll second 2Quarter’s suggestion for an offseason preview. I know it’s kind of a standard idea for a post, but I’m really curious about who you think the M’s are going to go after. You’ve said before (I believe) that you don’t see us acquiring both Schmidt and DM, and I’ve been wondering why. They both seem like logical targets.

    Keep up the incredible work.

  37. DIQ said

    Great ideas guys.

    There’s probably no need for an article about this, but I’m sure curious what the M’s plan to do with Balentien next season.

    Will he repeat AA which, I think would be wise, or will they be ‘agressive’ and start him out in AAA.

    I think with his talent and power potential there is no point to push him and just let him master his plate discipline w/o losing all those xbh’s.

    On the other hand I’m really excited about what Mike Wilson can do in AAA. He hasn’t missed a beat in AA and is almost putting up identical numbers.

  38. Go look at what Wilson has done the past few weeks… pitchers are certainly figuring him out big time.

  39. Alex said

    What about Casey Craig? He looks to be having a very solid year.

  40. in the Cal League, where bats have a distinct advantage, Craig is mashing.

    Not so much in a severe pitchers league in the first half of the year.

    2007 may be a make or break for Craig.

  41. DIQ said

    Horrible last 10 games.

    3 for 44. 3BB 17K.

    Actually looking at the entire month of August this guy has been struggling a whole lot.

  42. Orlandu said

    Something on the different prospects that will be in the Arizona Fall League and what they need to work on would be nice.

  43. KB said

    Tons of good ideas so far.

    I’m curious about Brian Kappel—- slightly old for the level, but what about his stuff?

    I’m especially excited to hear more about the trio of Peoria hitters recently promoted: Peguero, Liddi, & Avila. All seem to have struggled thus far.

  44. Aaron said

    What I’d like to see:

    That “MLB Clone” line is nice. Could we see that for more prospects all on one page? With perhaps a cieling and a more pessimistic projection? Balentin, for example, is a big power, low contact guy, but would you say he’s closer to Adam Dunn or Russ Branyon?

    For those of us stuck out in the middle of nowhere, without the time or resources to pour over stats and scouting reports on everybody, it would be nice to be able to compare a bunch of kids to known quantities quickly.

  45. I do a clone for all of the prospect profiles each offseason. It’s a mix of style, ceiling and actual abilities.

    I will do a clone for each of the top 25 this winter.

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