Nobody can say this spring has not been surprising. Josh Willingham starting in left field and Chris Parmelee likely making the team were both unexpected developments. Add another one to that list, because Drew Butera has been optioned to AAA Rochester.
Butera has been a fixture on the Twins’ roster for two years. Though he batted just .178/.220/.261 in 409 plate appearances, he has won significant praise from Twins management and pitchers for his ability to handle the catching position. He threw out 36% of attempted base stealers in that span, and his “low target” upped the confidence of the various sinkerball pitchers comprising the Twins rotation. Carl Pavano, in particular, has preferred to throw exclusively to Butera.
According to the Star Tribune, Butera’s competitor J.R. Towles is not likely to make the team either, and the Twins will probably begin the year with two catchers on the roster instead of three. For all his perceived defensive shortcomings behind the plate, the Twins feel that Ryan Doumit will be a more than adequate backup to Joe Mauer, and his ability to play first base and outfield gives the Twins great flexibility on the bench. The two catcher strategy is good news for Parmelee and Ben Revere, because it means the loser of the right field battle will not necessarily get a ticket to Rochester.
Butera’s hitting was the subject of much concern, particularly last year when he stumbled to a .167 batting average. Last May 24th, as Butera’s average drooped closer to .100 than .200, certain highly-reputable websites began speculating whether Butera might set a record for lowest-ever batting average. Butera was hitting just .115 at the time, but to his credit, he hit at a more respectable .197 pace the rest of the year, thus ending any chance of breaking that dubious record. To put Butera’s hitting in perspective, his .167 was actually the second-best mark for a Twins catcher in 2011. Reserve catchers Steve Holm (.118) and Rene Rivera (.144) both hit for significantly lower averages in 2011 than Butera.
We have almost certainly not seen the last of Butera on the Twins. The two catcher plan is a tenuous one; with both players likely to be in the lineup on an almost every day basis, it is only a matter of time before bumps and bruses sideline Mauer or Doumit for a game or two. Even if the Twins somehow avoid major injuries, they’ll likely call up Butera for a few games at a time. Remember, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement now allows teams to hold 26 players on the MLB roster when they are playing a double-header. Butera may well be the first player called up in such situations.
Down the road, Butera seems an ideal candidate to become a coach and/or manager. Catchers make good managers in general (current MLB managers Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi, and Bob Melvin would agree with that statement). Also in Butera’s favor is that he seems to be well-liked by players and pitchers respect his ability to make decisions and call a game. Butera certainly has more years ahead of him as a player, but he should consider coaching as an option afterward.