No. 4 – Tony Butler, LHP
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 17, 2007
Since 1998 the Seattle Mariners have been perusing the talent in the game of baseball, actively searching for left-handed pitching.
They’ve signed a few, traded for a couple and selected a number of them every June. But until round three of this past year’s draft, there hasn’t been such a promising southpaw since Ryan Anderson was taken in the first round nearly 10 years ago.
Tony Butler could very well be part of the resurgence of your Seattle Mariners, barring a miracle that the return to prominence occurs sooner.
With a plus fastball and curve and great makeup, the 19-year-old is an improved changeup away from being the next all-star quality starter in Mariners blue.
Strengths: Butler is able to create a leverage advantage with all of his pitches, and has shown the ability to induce ground balls as a result. He’s also got a lot of confidence to go with a strong work ethic and tons of projectability – one of the main reasons the M’s took a shot at him in the third round.
His velocity jumped markedly late in his prep season last spring and while many clubs had given up on him as an early pick, the Mariners stayed with him and it may pay off.
Butler’s considered to be a solid young man and his acumen for learning receives top grades by all accounts – inside and outside the Mariners organization. His performance in Everett last summer has many scouts saying the M’s got the steal of the round, if not the entire draft.
Weaknesses: Butler has a few flaws in his mechanics that the club sees as “necessary to fix” but none are supposedly career breakers by any means. The 19-year-old left-hander is about average at holding runners at this stage of his career but fields his position at an above-average level.
He tends to become predictable with his pitch selection, though that surely didn’t show up in the results last season, and will need to learn better sequential schemes to succeed in the upper levels of the minors.
||Left||Left||Draft, 2006 – 3rd Round
Fastball: Butler was scouted as a mid-round pick as the season began last spring while he sat in the 87-90 range with his fastball. About halfway through his senior season he began to reach back for more, and more is what he got. He often touched 93 with a four-seamer, and that trend continued as a pro.
Butler gets good downward plane on his 90-93 mph heater, and while its horizontal movement is about average, it’s still a plus pitch due to the improved velocity and vertical action.
His fastball command needs improvement, but that will come with repetition and proper coaching.
Curve: Butler’s out pitch is his 1-7 curve ball that he has loads of confidence throwing in any count. Even 3-0, Butler has shaken off his catcher to get the old No. 2, wound up and fired in a low-80s yacker that can buckle the knees of a left-handed bat and force a righty to give up early and regret it dearly.
He overused the pitch at times and the club asked him to back off the pitch late last year to save some torque on his young elbow, which forced/allowed him to use his third pitch more often.
Butler’s curve is currently above average and has the depth and late break to become a plus power curve ball that could give major leaguers a heckuva tough time.
Change: Currently his third best offering, Butler’s change is actually fairly solid considering he didn’t use it much in high school. He’s got a circle grip that should prove to be an easy learn for him with his larger-than-average hands and fingers.
With good dead-fish action, it’s already a useful offering and the more he throws it, the better it’ll get. If he can gain more confidence in the change-up, the sky is the limit for the Wisconsin native.
Command: While he only served up two home runs in over 56 innings of work last summer, he did find a way to issue nearly 5.5 walks per nine innings. He countered that with more than 12 K/9 but the walk rates have to improve against better competition.
Butler did have spurts of solid control in Everett, but it appeared as if he was trying to make a perfect pitch and that’s something a lot of young pitchers have to fight off.
There’s no reason why Butler can’t improve his command to the average level, or better, and his 2007 campaign will likely entail a lot of dialogue containing the words “throw strikes” from pitching coach Lance Painter.
Mechanics: Butler’s delivery pours his left arm out of the 5/8 slot which helps him hide the ball a little longer and create a slurvy curve ball. Being 6-7 and fairly athletic can both aid and hinder Butler’s mechanics, but he’s already built a pretty solid foundation of which to work.
Only minor adjustments are necessary at this point in his career, but one of them is the inconsistent length in his stride toward home plate. See? Minor, but a necessary fix.
Future: Butler has the pure stuff to push to become a No. 1 starter in the big leagues. To make that a reality, he’ll have to avoid major injury, which means a lot of focus on his mechanics, and vastly improve his command.
While bettering one’s command to that extent is rare, Butler’s still capable of settling in as Seattle’s No. 2 starter, right behind Felix Hernandez, who’ll be a crafty veteran when Butler breaks through in a few years.
He’s a natural candidate to turn his curve ball into a slider, but that will likely have to happen naturally and without any significant changes in his approach with his breaking ball.
Butler will start his 2007 campaign in his home state of Wisconsin where he’ll be aided, if anything, by the ballparks, though the colder weather conditions tend to make it tough to pitch, as well as hit.
Butler could move very quickly if he sustains his velocity and his command shows good improvement from year to year.
MLB ETA: 2009
MLB CLONE –
Ceiling: Mark Mulder
Median: Doug Davis
Cellar: Eric Milton
PI Projection 2007: 3.5 ERA, 145 IP, 9.8 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.6 G/F