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Tampa Bay Rays: Is Joey Butler For Real?

By David Egbert

There is nothing more enjoyable in baseball than seeing a supposed Triple-A lifer like Joey Butler make it into the show. Everybody loves an underdog and there are no bigger underdogs than aging former prospects like Butler. Where did his journey start and how did it unfold? Let’s take a look at Joey Butler’s career.

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Joey Butler was drafted in the 15th round out of the University of New Orleans in 2008 by the Texas Rangers. He spent five years working his way through the Rangers organization and finally made his major league debut in 2013. He played well in a few games for the Rangers, but he was no longer a prospect at 27 years of age and the Rangers dropped him. The St. Louis Cardinals picked him up and in 2014 he got a cup of coffee with the major league team. The Cardinals, overloaded with outfielders, soon moved on from him as well and he went to Japan for a mediocre few months.

Butler always put up good numbers in the minors. In eight years, he had an overall .294/.379/.446 slash line with 78 home runs and 390 RBI in 3,236 plate appearances. He was OK in the field with a .977 fielding average and only 30 errors in the eight year span. His Triple-A numbers were particularly good from 2011 through 2014 as he raised his line to .305/.398/.473 at the minor leagues’ highest level.

All players like Butler want is a chance to go to a major league camp and show their talents. Thanks in part to manager Kevin Cash, a former Triple-A teammate of Butler, the Tampa Bay Rays gave him just such an opportunity this spring. Butler played well in spring training but without a spot on the 40-man roster, he was back in the minors when the season started. Then, after he posted strong numbers at Triple-A Durham and Desmond Jennings went down, Butler got the call and another chance to prove himself.

This time something has really clicked for Joey Butler and it may be just more playing time at the major league level. In 101 plate appearances with the Rays, he has a .323/.356/.521 slash line with 4 home runs and 11 RBI entering Sunday. He has 30 strikeouts, but when he hits the ball, he makes hard contact while using all parts of the field. Butler has mostly played DH, but he has also done well in his limited time playing the outfield.

All of this has been a godsend to the offensively impaired Rays and Butler has won a few games for them almost by himself. Will he keep it up? We can’t know. A scout would probably tell you that Butler remains a Quad-A ballplayer and will hit the wall sooner rather than later. When that happens, Desmond Jennings may be healthy and Butler may be the odd man out.

Baseball is a numbers game and if the production slows down, Butler may be gone. Frankly, I hope that it doesn’t work out that way. We’ve seen enough of Jennings to know that he isn’t the answer to the Rays’ offensive problems–Butler just might be. Hopefully the Tampa Bay Rays will let Joey Butler prove all the scouts and general managers wrong and let him provide fuel for the Rays underpowered offense as long as he can.

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