Except for a brief two-game relief cameo at High-A Stockton early in the season, much of the first half of 2016 was a learning experience at Extended Spring Training for pitcher Brendan Butler. But the extra work seems to be paying off for the 2015 30th-round pick out of New York's Dowling College, who has made a big impact in the Beloit rotation down the stretch.
The 6'3'' right-hander, who will make his sixth Low-A start tonight at Wisconsin, has posted a 3.00 ERA in his first 30 innings for the Beloit Snappers. He has a 24:9 K:BB rate during that stretch. The performance comes on the heels of a strong stint with short-season Vermont, where Butler had a 1.95 ERA and 32 strike-outs in 37 innings.
Butler’s first five Midwest League starts have been successful for the most part, with one bad outing sandwiched in between four good ones.
"It was good to come in here and be sharp my first two starts,” Butler said. “I was able to get off on the right foot with a new club and new guys, some of the guys I hadn't met because they were ahead of me in the draft. One start was rough and I was unlucky in some situations, but I bounced back with a couple nice outings against Clinton and Burlington."
Butler features a nice mix of pitches including two- and four-seam fastballs, a changeup, slider and curveball. In his last outing on August 15th at Burlington in which he scattered four hits in six shutout innings, Butler’s fastball sat between 90 and 94 MPH.
Thanks to the stay at Extended Butler said he’s been able to command more of his pitches and have success.
"I'm locating fastball inside to lefties and righties, and I'm getting away when I need to,” he said. “When I fall behind in counts, I'm able to get my changeup over. I can get a 1-0 or 2-1 changeup and then I'm in the hitter's head already and they don't know what's coming after that. I'm not the biggest strikeout guy, but my fastball moves a lot so I've been getting a lot of weak contact early in counts."
The Beloi starter is an entirely different pitcher than he was a year ago coming out of college. After signing with Oakland, he went to the AZL A’s and posted a 5.30 ERA in 15 relief appearances. He consistently worked with runners on base, as indicated by his 1.71 WHIP and .320 BAA.
Spring training was a mixed bag for Butler and the organization decided he needed extra time in Arizona around minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson.
"I was a little upset out of spring when I stayed back in Extended, but then Gil told me I was becoming a starter,” Butler said. “I stayed down there and really think I used that extra work to get my pitches down, a better feel and better control.
“Once I got to Vermont, I felt comfortable right out of the gate. I got the ball every five days and was able to go out there and throw strikes. Gil told me I deserved the promotion and I'm glad I got my feet wet here."
That work will continue down the stretch for Butler, who is still fighting some mechanical issues in bullpen sessions.
"I'm trying to work on my landing foot and getting it more straight to the plate,” he said. “I have a tendency to land a little goofy-footed and it causes me to fall off. I also want to work on my hands going straight down instead of out. My fastball location has been good, but I'll keep working on that in sides."
With a solid finish to the season and carry-over into next year’s spring training, Butler could land in High-A Stockton to open 2017 as opposed to being left in Extended.