Top Prospect #19: Francisco Butto

Even though he was found to be two years older than originally thought, everything seemed to be on track for Francisco Butto. Then, he hit Clearwater in 2004 and struggled for the first time in his professional career. In 2005, Butto will look to continue to climb the ladder, but a "do-over" may be necessary and would further slow his climb toward the majors.

The Phillies have been patient with Francisco Butto, who they signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 19. Of course, they thought they were getting a 17 year old prospect, but closer scrutiny of his birth certificate showed he was two years older than he truly was. The Phillies might have pushed Butto earlier in his career and brought him to the states quicker rather than having him pitch two seasons in Venezuela to start his professional career. Now, he's three months away from his 25th birthday and moving his way closer to Philadelphia. If not for the age discrepancy, Butto would be right on track for what the Phillies had in mind for him, instead, he's a little behind.

Butto will reach AA this season and come upon the true test of his talents. His numbers dropped off considerably at Clearwater last season and there are concerns that the higher levels of the minors will expose some weaknesses in Butto's game. That all remains to be seen. The bottom line though is that the Phillies are looking for improvement from Butto and it won't get any easier for him to provide the kind of numbers that the Phillies hope to see. In the lower levels, Butto was impressive. For him, he could easily borrow last year's slogan... "Now is the time."

Year / Team W L ERA SV G GS CG IP H R ER BB KO HR
1999 Venezuela 5 2 4.37 1 15 4 0 47.1 42 24 23 32 43 1
2000 Venezuela 4 3 2.04 1 14 9 1 61.2 39 26 14 26 76 2
2001 Gulf Coast 2 3 2.42 2 15 0 0 26.0 22 10 7 12 20 1
2002 Gulf Coast 7 2 2.31 1 12 9 3 62.1 37 18 16 20 52 1
2003 Lakewood 10 12 3.03 0 27 25 2 148.2 134 65 50 59 104 8
2004 Clearwater 5 11 4.85 2 36 14 0 111.0 112 71 60 47 94 15
Career 33 33 3.35 7 129 61 6 457.0 386 214 170 196 389 28

 Acquired: Signed as an amateur free agent prior to the 1999 season.

Repertoire: Butto features a good, hard fastball that he generally keeps down in the zone and has decent control over. His other pitches are the usual curveball, slider type stuff and are about average.

Pitching: While Butto had generally kept his pitches down in the zone, 2004 was different. He got his pitches up a little and was hurt by longballs more than he had been in the past. Actually, the trend started in 2003. His BB/KO ratio has improved since the early days of his career, but leaving the ball up and out over the plate isn't going to do it.

Projection: The Phillies may be tempted to have Butto repeat a season at Clearwater. Because he's behind where they had hoped he would be at this point in his career though, they'll likely push him along to Reading and hope for the best. A demotion to Clearwater may be necessary if Butto doesn't show more than he did last season. Another consideration is whether Butto will be a starter or a reliever. The Phillies haven't made up their minds about his long-term role.

ETA: The Phillies initially thought that Butto would be a level per season type of pitcher once he came to the states. That plan was ruined early on when he repeated the Gulf Coast League. Now, they're hoping he doesn't need to repeat Clearwater, but don't figure for him to spend just a season at AA and another at AAA and be ready for the majors. It's likely that Butto won't get much major league consideration before 2007.

Comparison: It looks like Butto will likely be a pitcher who will work in long relief with some spot starts thrown in here and there. Right now, the hope is that he can become at least an Amaury Telemaco type pitcher at the major league level.


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