Acquired: Draft, 2009 - 24th Round, #729 Overall
Player Profile & Career Summary:
Here's Jim Callis speaking about Keith Butler in a chat during the 2011 season:
He's a gutty guy with more deception than stuff. He has an 88-91 mph fastball and a slow curveball. Will have to keep proving himself.
Since then, Keith Butler has just kept proving himself, while adding a average changeup to his arsenal of pitches, improving his ability to deceive hitters. He's been remarkably consistent, with a 2.86 FIP and a 2.95 SIERA in 151 innings since Callis was quoted 30 months ago.
As Callis notes, Butler relies on deception to get hitters out, as he doesn't have any exceptional offerings. He's been able to enhance his outcomes as of late by improved command of the pitches he does have, shrinking his BB% from 11.3% in 2011 to just 6.8% last season. Pairing that with an increased strikeout rate, 30.2% across AA and AAA last year, and you have someone who's hard to ignore as a major league relief candidate, even if he doesn't throw 95+ mph.
Butler's pitching to Gary Brown here (in the middle of the 2011 Gary Brown breakout season no less - .336/.407/.519 in the FSL that year) and clearly has him guessing as to what's coming, fooling him badly on a breaking ball down before getting a weak ground ball up the middle for the out.
Butler throws slightly across his body, hiding the ball well, and you can see that his curveball comes out of a very similar arm slot as his fastball, making it harder to define the pitch that's coming until it's nearly out of his hand. You can see, however, that it's got a bit of a "hop" in it when it breaks, which makes it easier to lay off. That's likely why he's developed a changeup, which will allow him to change speeds and fade the ball away from LHH. Which he sorely needs as his 4.73 SIERA and 5.09 FIP against lefties at Memphis last year just isn't going to cut it.
Butler projects as a ROOGY, which is nothing to sneeze at: Octavio Dotel has made a whole career out of getting right handed hitters out at a high rate, and there's a lot of right handed hitters at the big league level. While he doesn't have the fastball/slider combo you generally see from pitchers with that skill set, his deception and repetitive motion with three pitches should be enough to get him a job somewhere in a big league bullpen. My concern would be how Butler is able to hold up once major league teams have him scouting on video. That's the problem with deception, it can be pretty easy to scout and adjust for and if you don't have above average stuff, that will catch up to you later on.
Butler's career line against right handed hitters (2.34 FIP, 2.75 SIERA, 29.8% K's, 8.7% BB's) certainly is good enough to provide some bullpen value. Rated as a borderline C+/B- guy on most lists, he's a nice additional piece to add to a trade and will get some time in the MLB this year.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared as one of VEB's Other 15 series, a set of profiles of players on the Cardinals 40-man roster who were unlikely to make the club's 25-man MLB roster unless there was an injury. The injuries to Jaime Garcia and Jason Motte's continuing rehabilitation from his season-ending surgery a year ago have given Butler this opportunity and made the profile relevant again.