Royals feel Butler not ready for Majors
Young slugger loaded with potential, willing to wait his turn
KANSAS CITY -- Billy Butler is a prodigious prospect. Oh, boy, this young man can hit. He's been invited to the Royals' Spring Training camp.
However, there's no chance he'll start the season in a Kansas City uniform. That's already been decided.
"He's going to go to Omaha," general manager Dayton Moore said. "We're just going to make an advance decision right now. He's going to go to Omaha and, from there, we'll see."
Butler, 20, is a Major Leaguer in the making. The Royals supervise the most important part, the on-field stuff. Butler is taking care of the some of the off-field stuff.
Last month, for instance, Butler made a tour of Kansas City, shepherded by his agent, Doug Rogalski, and his publicist, Mark Berman. They did a blitz of radio, TV, newspaper and, yes, Internet interviews. Butler wanted to meet the press now.
"So when I get out to Spring Training, I can concentrate more on baseball," he said.
Butler also went to Children's Mercy Hospital.
"It means more to me every time I go in there," he said. "It's the world to them if you just come in and see them and give them some Royals stuff. These are kids who aren't blessed with the natural ability of even walking or living a normal life. I have the talent to play baseball and it makes me even more [determined] to not abuse my ability. Because I guarantee you that any one of those kids would, in a second, take what I've got. So it's pretty much you're playing for those kids who can't."
And he visited a grade school.
"I love talking to little kids because it sets a good role model," he said. "It's good for them to see somebody that's on the right track."
Butler does seem to be on the right track.
He batted .331 last season for Double-A Wichita. He whacked 15 home runs, knocked in 96 runs, smacked 33 doubles and struck out just 67 times in 477 at-bats.
Yet, his outfield play made Wichita pitchers often hold their breath and their hearts palpitate. Signed as a third baseman, he made the switch in 2005.
"It's going really good. I'm comfortable in left or right now. It's something I've been working hard to be good at," Butler said. "And it's not going to stop here. I'm going to keep working hard at being a better outfielder every day."
Being a former third baseman has helped.
"I know situations. In the infield, I knew where everybody was going. So it makes it easier for me in the outfield. When I get the ball, I know where to throw it," he said.
And, oh my, Butler can make other outfielders chase the ball. In 2004, he broke in with a league-leading .373 average for Idaho Falls. In 2005, he hit .348 for High Desert and .313 in finishing the season with Wichita. In three years, he has 55 homers in 314 games.
"I go up there and don't really put too much into it," he said. "I have the ability to read a pitcher and just know the sequences that he does. When I get up to the plate, I'm looking for a certain pitch and I just adjust from there."
Butler subscribes to the old tongue-in-cheek baseball axiom: Don't think too much, you'll hurt the ballclub.
"It's hard enough as it is, and when you start thinking too much up there, you're going to struggle," he said.
There's nothing better for the right-handed Butler than teeing off on a good fastball.
"Any good hitter is primarily a fastball hitter. You want to know why? Because they don't get to the other pitches. They hit the fastball when it's thrown," he said.
"If you hit that before they get to the other pitches, you're pretty good."
That's something he'll get to refine this summer against older and wiser Triple-A pitchers. He can also work on his defense.
"Our guys think he's going to be a solid average to above-average defensive player at some point in time," Moore said. "We feel that he's going to be a good defensive player and that the guy is going to work at it."
Today it's Omaha. Someday it'll be Kansas City.
"It's going to happen eventually and I hope it's sooner than later," Butler said. "If it's not in the plan this year, it's not in the plan. I love baseball ... I figure I'll be in the big leagues when I'm ready, when I earn it."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.