Billy Butler Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 14
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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Billy Butler was always hitter, plain and simple.
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This is much more than just a simple factual statement regarding a career choice. Yes, by the exact definition of the phrase, Butler was a professional hitter—a baseball player who made his living mainly based on offensive value.
But, if you imagine in your head the times you’ve heard an old baseball salt say something along the lines of, “oh, that guy is a hitter,” with plenty of emphasis on the word, Butler is the kind of hitter that person is referring to.
Line drives. Gap to gap. Line to line. Butler could rake, and from even before the Royals took him No. 14 in the 2004 draft, he made hitting his business. Butler spent his entire career going up to the dish with a plan.
“I was so hyper-mentally focused that I didn’t care who was pitching,” Butler said. “I was looking for a ball in a certain area, and if it wasn’t there, I wasn’t swinging at it.”
Butler didn’t just spend his high school days terrorizing high school pitching—he also spent the summer before his senior year hitting in the heart of the order for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team.
Once the Royals handed him a $1.45M signing bonus—denying legendary Yankees owner George Steinbrenner of nabbing a hitter he coveted—Butler went right to work, rocketing through the minors with video game numbers for a hitter of his age.
After Butler graduated from high school, he went right to short-season Idaho Falls and hit a modest .373 over the course of 74 games. In his first full season at age 19, he jumped right to High-A High Desert. In retrospect, asking young arms to throw to Butler in the hitter-friendly conditions of the California League was a cruel ask. Fortunately for opposing pitchers, in that same season Butler was promoted to Double-A Wichita after torching High-A at a .348 clip with 25 homers.
At 20 years old, in what would’ve been the summer after his sophomore year in college, Butler hit .331 in the Double-A Texas League and was Futures Game MVP. The following year he was in the big leagues.
Butler hit wherever he went, so much so that to an outsider it probably seemed easy. However, that’d be severely underselling the work Butler put in to make the most of his bat, and to make his career turn out as it did.
The barrel control was “god-given,” but the way he was able to apply it to the fullest of his ability was earned. During his time in the big leagues Butler made the most of the video of opposing pitchers available to him, and always stayed within himself regarding his approach, even while the game began to favor a different style of hitter in his mold. Butler had one mission at the plate, and he stuck to it.
“Hard hit contact,” said Butler. “The only thing you can control is hitting it on the barrel.”
Even with a body and foot speed that screamed full-time designated hitter, a combination of pride and hard work led him to play more games at first base over his time in the big leagues than many thought possible. He made an All-Star team, won a Silver Slugger, played in a World Series, and signed a big free agent contract. Butler was a hitter, through and through.
Until baseball decided that a hitter like Butler was no longer in demand.
On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm’ former big leaguer Billy Butler joins to discuss his 10-year career. He’ll talk the importance of his time in short-season A ball, the importance of video and short-term goals when it comes to succeeding as a big league hitter, and the toil of spending every August and September playing for a losing ballclub.