PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Earlier in spring training a couple of major leagues scouts were watching the Red Sox go through their pregame drills. Unprompted, one of the scouts mentioned Dan Butler, saying he has been very impressed by him. Another scout joined in, saying how much he likes how Butler calls a game and handles veteran pitchers.
Butler is one of the five catchers on the Sox’ 40-man roster. He is probably the one you’ve heard the least about.
“Absolutely, he’s been under the radar his whole career and I’m dating back to college, too,” said Chad Epperson, the team’s minor league catching coordinator.
Butler, 27, is entering his sixth season in the organization. After going undrafted out of the University of Arizona, he joined the Red Sox as a free agent in July 2009.
“Our scouts saw him in the Cape Cod League and really were intrigued by what they saw,” Epperson said. “He’s kind of fit the role. He’s kind of a guy that doesn’t need all the spotlight on him, and he just continues to show up every day.”
There’s David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski on the big league team, Ryan Lavarnway, the prospect who had been so highly heralded but whose catching star now seems to be waning, and Christian Vazquez, who lit up spring training last year with his strong and accurate arm. And then there’s Butler.
“Nobody knows him like a household name but he’s good. He’s great,” Epperson said. “He’s so dependable with game calling, understanding the opposition, from the fundamental side, throwing people out, receiving. He’s just dependable and a guy that you just love to have on your team.”
Butler is not worried about the catching inventory.
“That’s a lot of catchers but everyone of them are good and there’s plenty more that aren’t on the 40-man that are really good, too,” Butler said. “But you can’t look at it like that. You just got to worry about yourself and how you go out and perform your job.”
In 2013, his first full year at Triple A, he hit .262 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 84 games, leading the PawSox with a .479 slugging percentage. In a team-high 72 games behind the plate, he threw out 25 of 82 (30.5 percent) would-be base stealers, led the International League catchers with 54 assists, and was named the PawSox team MVP.
He is in his third big league spring training camp now, but of the five catchers has more innings behind the plate than just Lavarnway, who is also playing first base now. Butler played two innings in Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Rays, replacing Ross when the veteran came out of the game, giving Butler a total of 24 now.
“A guy that handles a staff well,” manager John Farrell said. “I know it’s been limited innings behind the plate. In addition to what he did last year, I think he’s got a very good feel for calling a game. Particularly not afraid to pitch guys in, which I think when he shows that pitcher that he has a willingness to go in there, that gives that pitcher on the mound a lot of confidence to attack inside with some fastballs, which personally I like.
“There’s power in the bat that opponents have to respect. We’re fortunate to have a catching corps that is deep and talented and Daniel’s clearly one of them.”
Butler has an instinct for the game, Farrell said, especially in his game calling that is not simply dependent on major league experience.
“There’s a feel for what a guy behind the plate is feeling with the hitter in the box, reading his swings, getting a sense of the aggressiveness or lack of for a given guy,” Farrell said. “So there’s a sense or a feel there that’s in combination with a guy’s strengths on the mound.”
Being in his third camp has allowed Butler to get comfortable around a veteran pitching staff — not only in knowing what pitch to call but what to say to a pitcher and when to say it. It’s something he learned in his first camp and has been working on since.
“Just really get to know everybody a little bit more,” Butler said. “Be a little bit more open with some of the older guys, talk to David a little bit more about some of the pitchers more personally, not necessarily just about what he does, but how he does some stuff with some of the pitchers. I got to get to know A.J. He was very open from the first day I talked to him. So it was nice to get to know him and just get his take on what he does and how he’s done for the last 15 years.”
Butler knows he’s just a phone call away from making his big league debut. But, he doesn’t want to think about that.
“Exactly,” he said. “You can’t worry about what’s ahead of you. I worry about today. If you worry about tomorrow, then what did you leave behind today? So I kind of just take that mentality every day.”
For Epperson, though, it’s not a phone call he would hesitate to make.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he’s ready,” Epperson said. “I think the most important thing for Danny Butler to do to continue to get better is to continue to do what Danny Butler does every single day. And if he can continues to do that, his time is coming, there’s no doubt in our minds, and I speak for the whole organization in that point, that this guy can go up and handle that stage.”