May 3, 2011 at 9:20 AM
The subject of a lengthy April 28 feature on SoxProspects News, Salem catcher Dan Butler is earning plenty of attention to begin the season. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of the Cape Cod League in 2009, Butler hit his way into the consciousness of prospect watchers last season and has continued to rake in 2011, posting a line of .344/.429/.738 in 17 games this season. Last week's article barely scratched the surface of what was discussed when I caught up with Butler in Frederick last month. We also covered his approach to the game, his views on catching, and the big league experience he’ll never forget. Thanks to Dan for being so accommodating throughout the process.
Jon Meoli: A big part of your story is that you went undrafted and had to go to the Cape League to catch on professionally. Can you talk a little bit about that experience for you?
Dan Butler: After not getting drafted, I didn’t really think about getting signed. I mean, I wanted to be signed. I went to the Cape to be signed. But I just really wanted to play summer ball again, and I didn’t want to go to some podunk town. I played in the West Coast League, which is a good league and I had a great time there, but I wanted to play in the league where everybody wants to play. So I went there and just did what I knew I could do. I just wanted to play, and when it happened, it was awesome. I’m glad someone saw me. It was the right time, right place.
JM: Was there any indication before the draft that teams were going to take you, or did you have a pretty good idea that it would pass without hearing your name called?
DB: I had no idea. I met with a couple scouts. They told me I’d probably be a late rounder or something, but I really didn’t play. I only had 76 at-bats my redshirt junior year, so it’s hard to draft a guy that doesn’t really play. So it was understandable from that perspective, but I knew I could play. I wasn’t like “Oh my god, I didn’t get drafted. I’m going to quit baseball.” It was kind of up in the air anyway.
JM: When the Red Sox finally contacted you, was there any inclination to return to school on your part, or were you just ready to get your career started?
DB: I was just ready to get my career started. I talked to my coaches to let them know something had happened and that someone was interested. I tried to negotiate but I didn’t really care. I just wanted to play. I was ready to go.
JM: They signed you as a backup catcher in Lowell, and you’ve grown into what (manager) [Bruce] Crabbe called a prospect. Did you feel slighted by what happened? Is there a chip on your shoulder that causes you to try to prove the doubters wrong?
DB: Every day, man. I come out here every day and work. They have nothing invested in me, and it’s easy to let a guy go. That’s the way I look at it. Every day, every play. I can’t ever go soft out there. Everything 100 percent. I just go at it every day, because there’s always somebody out there who’s just as good as you. It’s all about who outworks them.
JM: When you look at your own game, does anything jump out as a strength?
DB: I’d just say my catching. I feel like I have really good hands. Just being able to receive the ball well is one of my strengths. I like to throw guys out too.
JM: In terms of that and just handling pitching staffs, you’ve been with some of these guys for a couple of years now. Can you talk about what you’ve seen out of Drake Britton and Pete Ruiz over the last year or so?
DB: When I first met Drake, he was a bulldog. He’s still a bulldog out there. It’s just whether or not he can relax himself well enough to control his emotions. You can see that he’s growing up, and growing up to be more effective at that part of it. He’s refining everything. He’s got a good changeup now. I didn’t even know he had one, and now it’s really effective. He’s got a good two-seam now, which is new this year. And his curveball is a hammer, man. It’s been a hammer since I’ve seen it. It’s a good pitch. With Pete, just as a piggyback guy last year, he shoved and he earned his way up. Now he’s dealing. He’s got great sink on his fastball and action on everything, and he really goes after guys. He’s not afraid to get hit, and that’s what makes him a good pitcher. He’s not afraid to get hit because his stuff is good enough. He says, “Here it is, good luck hitting it.”
JM: At this point, it looks like there are some pitchers down in Greenville who could be joining you up here quickly. What’s the conversation between you two like when these new pitchers arrive?
DB: First off, it’s what pitches do you have and what are your signs. Then, just what they like to do, really. Do they like to work in? Which pitch do you like to go to to get back in counts? I tell them I want them to use [their] fastball, because your fastball is your best pitch. A best pitch in baseball is a located fastball, so I tell them first off that if I want one I’m going to ask for it. They can shake it off if they want, but that’s their best pitch. I ask them about their comfort with their off-speed pitch, what works best for them, stuff like that. I don’t want to get too in-depth because I want to make it easy on them.
JM: How long does it usually take for pitchers to get comfortable with you? Do you think that’s as big of an issue as it’s made out to be by fans and the media?
DB: Absolutely. The trust factor is big in baseball because they’re relying on you to call a good game and relying on you to catch the pitches. If you can’t, then no one is going to want to throw to you. It’s a trust factor. It might take a couple outings to realize that this guy's a good catcher, he knows what’s going on, but it shouldn’t take long. They know within one or two outings whether or not they like you.
JM: To that point, talk a little about the catching situation in the system. Some players feel blocked if there’s someone there to stay up at the big club, but that’s not the situation behind the play.
DB: I just go out there and play every day. You know what’s going on and you know the situation, but you can’t really do anything about it so why worry about it. You just go out there and play every day, and if you do good, you get the results. That’s what matters. That’s what they want. Obviously, it’s about the process and developing, but it’s also who’s producing at that time. If it’s the right time, you get the call-up.
JM: Last year, you got the call all the way up to Pawtucket. What was that whole experience like for you?
DB: It was a little bit of a surprise. I didn’t know I was going to jump up that far, but it was a whirlwind. Once you get called into the manager’s office, you’re either going down or up. Something is going to happen. I didn’t know what was going on, but when they said I was going to Pawtucket, I was like “sweet.” Once I got in there, the guys were real good to me. Everyone was really friendly, and they made it easier on me by helping me out. They made it relaxing and helped me relax. Once you get in the game, it speeds up a little bit, but for the most part it was a whirlwind experience. I was there for a week then I was back.
JM: And more recently, you had another big moment to end spring training with a home run in the major league exhibition game in front of your family. It’s been written about, but what was that experience like?
DB: It was really fun. Just for my parents to see it and be there, that’s what made it special. For them to be able to experience that… my dad grew up as a Red Sox fan. He’s been pushing for the Red Sox the whole time, and that’s not a joke. To get to do that for him was really fun. It was an emotional time for them, but it meant so much to me too. It was just fun to be a part of it.
JM: If that ends up being your shining moment in a big league park, is it enough?
DB: No. I want more. That was just a taste. I think that’s why they did it, to give me a taste of what it could be. Staying at five-star hotels, taking the chartered flights. This is what it could be if you keep working the way you’ve been doing. Just keep going and you’re going to get better every day. This is what could be.