Unheralded Butler is catching up quickly
The Red Sox have not developed a catcher who played a meaningful role on the major league team since Scott Hatteberg, a supplemental first-round pick in 1991. He hit the majors in 1995 and became the starter two years later.
The organization hopes to end that developmental slump sometime soon. In Luis Exposito, Ryan Lavarnway, Tim Federowicz, and Adalberto Ibarra, the Sox have an enviable group of prospects. But it is a player from whom little was expected who could rise to the top.
Dan Butler was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2009 when the Sox needed a backup for their Single A team at Lowell and spotted him in the Cape Cod League. He has become the everyday catcher for high Single A Salem and is hitting .339 with a 1.172 OPS through 18 games.
“Dan has built himself into a prospect and it’s through hard work,’’ said Salem manager Bruce Crabbe. “He’s making big strides.’’
Butler had elbow surgery while at the University of Arizona and became a backup, hitting a modest .263 as a senior. He left his home in Arizona for the Cape after not being taken in the draft. He was determined to stay with baseball.
He played in 24 games between Lowell and Salem in 2009, hitting .173. But he showed enough in spring training in 2010 to stick with the organization and hit .310 with 40 extra-base hits over 98 games for Greenville, Salem, and Pawtucket.
That led to his becoming the full-time catcher at Salem this season. At 24, Butler is a little old for the Carolina League. But he’s behind many of the players in terms of experience.
“The last time I played every day, other than summer league, was before I went to college,’’ he said. “It takes some getting used to, physically and mentally.’’
Butler has been producing at the plate, but his focus is on the defensive aspects of catching. He has been working with Crabbe and Salem pitching coach Kevin Walker on calling games and reading the swings of opposing hitters.
“That’s the biggest step for me, learning the pitching staff and implementing the game plan while making adjustments along the way,’’ he said.
Salem has a veteran pitching staff, which helps. Butler also gets a lot of tutoring from organizational catching instructor Chad Epperson. Butler had a chance to talk to major league catchers Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia during spring training and learned a lot from them.
“They’re both welcoming people and answer all your questions,’’ said Butler, who accompanied the major league team to Houston for an exhibition game in March and homered. “The people in the organization have been great to work with.’’
Crabbe said Butler reminds him of Varitek.
“He blocks balls well, he’s aggressive behind the plate, and he’s smart,’’ Crabbe said. “Dan is very astute at making adjustments.
“He has worked hard to get here and I think he has a high ceiling. This is really the first time he’s been the regular catcher.’’
Lavarnway and Federowicz are splitting the catching duties in Double A Portland, with Exposito and Mike McKenry (acquired in March) doing the same in Pawtucket.
That would seem to leave little space for Butler to advance. But he is used to that.
“If you perform, things happen,’’ he said. “I know we have a lot of good catchers, but you have to have confidence in what you can do. When you get to this point, it’s kind of what you expected. You don’t expect to fail; you want to keep going.
“You can’t be satisfied, and I’m not satisfied.’’
Stolmy weather Stolmy Pimentel is 0-4 with a 7.06 ERA in five starts for Portland. He allowed four runs on eight hits (two home runs) and two walks over 4 1/3 innings in a 7-1 loss to Trenton Wednesday. It’s important to note that Pimentel, who turned 21 in February, is young for the Eastern League. The righthander has alternated poor outings with good ones as he adjusts to the higher level of competition. Pimentel entered the season ranked among the organization’s top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America. An unheralded signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, he has made quick progress. Pimentel is 9-15 with a 4.49 ERA over the last two seasons. At this point, the Sox are more concerned with his development than his statistics.
Linares sidelined Juan Carlos Linares, a 26-year-old outfielder from Cuba, created a splash at spring training when he hit .320 and consistently made good contact. That earned him a spot with Pawtucket. But Linares has struggled in the International League. He hit .233 over 17 games (albeit with nine extra-base hits) and walked only four times. He landed on the disabled list Tuesday with an injured left ankle, the result of a slide into second base . . . Portland third baseman Will Middlebrooks is a good friend of Ryan Mallett, the University of Arkansas quarterback the Patriots drafted in the third round. The two grew up in Hooks, Texas, and Middlebrooks was a quarterback at a different high school before focusing on baseball.