TCN 2012 Cardinals Prospect #38: Keith Butler

Following his third professional season, our 2011 St. Louis Cardinals Minor League Reliever of the Year makes his top 40 prospect list debut.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)

2011 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NR RHR 1/30/1989 6-0 180 R R 2009 24th

School: Wabash Valley (IL) College

Selected 2011 stats

QC 0 1 1.17 12 0 5 15.1 7 2 0 5 16 0.93 0.135
PB 1 0 1.25 34 0 12 36 19 6 1 18 52 0.56 0.151
Total 1 1 1.23 46 0 17 51.1 26 8 1 23 68 0.67 0.146
AFL 1 1 6.75 12 0 0 10.2 10 8 1 11 5 0.77 0.263

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (33): 102.1 IP, 73 H, 156 K, 51 BB and just 2 HR given up in three seasons across five levels -- is there a pitcher in the entire minor leagues with better numbers and less recognition?

Keith Butler has done nothing but perform since being drafted in 2009. It is telling when the biggest rap against a pitcher with those types of numbers is a low ground ball rate. Butler also misstepped slightly in the 2011 Arizona Fall League (AFL) where his outstanding control seems to have abandoned him for the brief season. However, even those numbers are skewed by just a couple of poor outings.

Butler should start 2012 at Double-A Springfield (his sixth level). His AFL appearance implies that the Cards see Butler as a reliever with huge potential and possibly a fast mover to the big leagues. I'd still say it would be surprising to see him in St. Louis in 2012, but a second half appearance in Memphis would seem a solid bet if he continues to perform as he has in the past.

Message board community (44): The pride of Wabash Valley College, righty reliever Keith Butler was the community's number 44 pick. While normally it would be pretty tough to get excited about a Wabash Valley Warrior drafted #729, Butler has done nothing but dominate across five teams during his three professional seasons. An overall ERA of 1.92 (including a 1.23 this year) tends to get people's attention.

Armed with solid MLB-level velocity, Butler can strike out the opposition. And collecting strikeouts he does, to the tune of 156 in just 112 minor league innings. Yes, the walk rate is somewhat troublesome at 4+ every 9 IP, but at least the mild wildness hasn't led to too many taters (just one this year, and two for his career), despite Keith's extreme flyball tendencies.

Butler turns 23 next month, and will make a big move up in class next year, with his anticipated promotion to Double-A Springfield. If he can tighten his control without sacrificing his punch-out slurve, a bump to Triple-A, or even a September call up, would not be out of the question. - BobReed

Brian Walton (42): One cannot argue with Butler's results. For good reason, I made the decision to name him our TCN Reliever of the Year across the entire Cardinals minor league system in 2011. As noted, he has a very high strikeout rate and rarely gives up the home run.

Despite getting high marks for being a strike-thrower, Butler's results show he has walked 4.5 batters per nine innings over his first two seasons as a professional. Further, his walk rate is trending upward. At Palm Beach, it was higher than at Quad Cities, which was higher than at Batavia.

Armed with a 92-94 mile per hour fastball, Butler actually receives more notice for his breaking pitch, called a slurve by some. His control bumps may be in part due to him trying to rediscover his curveball, once considered a very effective pitch.

Because of the control question, my outlook for Butler's progression upward through Springfield is not as aggressive as the others. As we saw in 2011 when Springfield's pen was battered and bruised, the Texas League can be very hard on untested arms. Butler's limited results against higher level competition to date, as indicated by his AFL numbers, may be closer to what to expect early next season in Double-A than another sub-1.25 ERA campaign. If/when he hits another bump, let's see how he adjusts.

Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

There's more! Want access to the all details behind our Cardinals prospect rankings in our "Forty Days, Forty Nights, Forty Prospects" feature here at The Cardinal Nation?

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