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.
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…
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.
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.
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