Yesterday, I started the profiles of Twins' catchers who could be Joe Mauer's temporary replacements this season, beginning with José Morales. Today I am continuing the series on catchers by profiling Drew Butera.
Drew Butera, the son of former Twin Sal Butera will turn 26 years old next August 9th. He was signed by the Mets after being drafted in the 5rd round of the 2005 amateur out of the Univesity of Central Florida as a sophomore. He was previously drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 48th round of the 2002 draft, but he opted to go to college. In High School (Bishop Moore High, Orlando, FL) he was the 3A player of the year his senior season and second-team all country in his junior year. The right-handed catcher, was traded to the Twins along with Dustin Martin for Luis Castillo a day before the trading deadline in 2007. In his last season with the Central Florida Scarlet Knights Butera hit .325/.434/.481 with 5 HRs and 10 SB, while throwing out 48% of potential base-stealers. That was his best season (amateur or professional) ever with the bat, earning him a spot in the A-Sun All Tournament team.
It seems that either the transition from aluminum to wood was very hard for him, or the Mets, in their usual fashion, rushed him and had him play a level or two above his place. As a matter of fact, he had been gaining at least level a year in the Mets' system, regardless his performance. In his first pro year he was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League (low A), where he hit .217/.305/.297 with 1 HR in 175 AB (55 games). Regardless his flirtation with the Mendoza line, he was promoted to the Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League, A) in 2006 and responded in a predictable fashion hitting .186/.297/.281 with 5 HRs in 295 AB. One would think that at this point the Mets would probably step on the break and at least have him repeat 2007 in Hagerstown; that was not the case. In 2007 he was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets of the Florida State League (high A) where he hit a reasonable .258/.348/.418 with 5 HR in 182 AB (his best pro numbers at any level.) This earned him a promotion to the Eastern League (AA) Binghampton Mets, where he hit .188/.208/.231 in 117 AB before traded to the Twins.
The Twins, did not act like their normal conservative selves as far as player development goes, and instead of sending him to Ft. Myers in the Florida state league where he was successful with the Mets earlier in the season, assigned him to the New Britain Rock Cats in the same Eastern League. He hit .260/.327/.360 in 17 games for the Rock Cats, which was good enough to earn him a trip at the Arizona Fall League where he hit .250/.314/.313 in 12 games (32 AB). Last season he repeated his assignment with the Rock Cats and somewhat disappointed hitting .219/.308/.354 with 7 HRs at 302 AB. Butera was added to the 40 man roster this fall to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and has 3 years of options left including 2009. He does not have to be in the majors until 2012 and it is probably to his benefit that he doesn't. His defense is excellent. He threw 50% of the would be base-stealers he faced last season in New Britain. Having the benefit of being tutored since a very young age by his father, Sal Butera, even since early in his pro career, Drew is on record (here is a 2005 interview from scout.com) saying that for him defense is the priority for a catcher and success with the bat is secondary. I hope that he changed that opinion the last 4 years, since incomplete catchers are usually AAAA players at best.
If he is rushed to the majors, he could be another Danny Ardoin (career .206/.296/.307 in parts of 5 seasons with the Twins, Rangers, Rockies, Orioles, Dodgers and a lot of trips back and forth to AAA in between; but he caught 38% of would be stealers in the process) or another Sal Butera (career .227/.302/.295 in parts of 9 MLB seasons with the Twins, Tigers Expos, Reds and Blue Jays and many trips back and forth to AAA.) Drew has shown glimpses of brilliance with the bat: occasionally hits for power and has stretches that he has shown a good eye at the plate, but his overall ability as a hitter has not yet caught up with his defensive abilities yet. There are a couple of positive elements from his last season, when he hit .219/.308/.354 with the Rock Cats: His is hitting lefties ok (.269/.364/.358 vs .197/.286/.338 against RHP) and he hits well at his first AB against an opposing starter in a game: .308/.333/.436. He needs to make adjustments, as the pitchers adjust to him and work on his hitting against RHP. The best thing for Butera would be to repeat AA this year, if successful move to Rochester mid-season or in 2010 and then be re-evaluated. Anything else might be a rushed decision.
A couple of anecdotal tidbits about Butera: He is a big opera fan and used to listen to Andrea Bocelli and Luciano Pavarotti in the clubhouse before games while in the Mets' system. I am not sure whether he continued that in the Twins' system, but he is a part of a makeshift band with 3 other Rock Cats: Trevor Plouffe, Dustin Martin and Toby Gardenhire. He has been wearing the number 22 jersey in the minors, but since that belongs to Carlos Gomez, he has been wearing the number 71 in spring training.