Kansas City, Mo. It's amazing how quickly and accurately some baseball lifers can identify a hitting prospect, even though it's the bat that is the most difficult tool in sports to evaluate.
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, just as was the case with the field boss for whom he played most of his career, Tommy Lasorda, long has been known for his keen eye for talent. It didn't take Scioscia long to project Billy Butler's bat when he first saw it at the Arizona Fall League.
"I think he has the tools to be something special," Scioscia said Wednesday from the desk in the visiting manager's office inside Kauffman Stadium, before a 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals. "He hits a variety of pitches with power. He takes a man's swing at the ball. He attacks the ball."
The years will determine whether Scioscia is right about the Royals' rookie left fielder who was too good for Triple-A ball, even though he just turned 21 on April 18.
A sharp baseball lifer doesn't need statistics to form opinions, but the numbers certainly don't contradict Scioscia's projection. Until now, Butler's been too good for every league.
Drafted in the first round in 2004 and signed out of Wolfson High in Jacksonville, Fla., Butler led the short-season Class A Northwest League in hitting (.373) and RBIs (68 in 74 games), tied for the league lead in doubles (22), and hit 10 home runs.
In 2005, he started the season at Class A High Desert and batted .348 with 25 home runs and 91 RBIs in 92 games, earning a promotion to Double A. In 148 games for Double-A Wichita at the end of 2005 and all of 2006, he batted .321, ripped 42 doubles, hit 20 home runs and drove in 115 runs.
After batting .419 in spring training, Butler was sent to Triple-A Omaha. Again, he dominated. He batted .337 and ranked in the top 10 in the Pacific Coast League in eight other offensive categories.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, Butler's built for power, not speed. He has among the thickest legs in the game. Think a taller version of Yogi Berra. Butler is no wild swinger. He takes a lot of pitches and doesn't strike out a ton.
He's been tried at third base and first base and is now in left field. Defensively, he projects as a designated hitter, probably as soon as next season when Mike Sweeney is gone. Butler will do his best to play an adequate left field this season and if that's not good enough, so what? It's not as if he's going to cost the Royals a pennant.
He's in a good situation, as are smooth-fielding, light-hitting shortstop Tony Pena and struggling third baseman Alex Gordon. None of them need to feel pressure to produce immediately. The small crowds appreciate watching them more than the retreads that would be in their places.
Not long ago he was the one watching. His father took him every summer to Atlanta to watch the Braves, usually when the Phillies were in town.
"Chipper Jones was always a favorite of mine," Butler said before going 0-for-4 in his second big-league game. "Scott Rolen because I played third base. Ken Griffey Jr. It was a good time to be growing up watching guys hit."
Still is. That's the thing about baseball. It's always a good time to be watching hitters. The supply is endless. Plenty of kids will enjoy watching Butler hit.