Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who is Drew Butera?

Butera reacts after reaching into the stands to make a great catch for the final out of a Minnesota victory over the White Sox

The son of former Twins catcher Sal Butera, Drew Butera has been in the Twins organization since the middle of the 2007 season, when he was acquired in a trade with the New York Mets.  The Twins shipped veteran second baseman Luis Castillo, who was to be a free agent at the end of the year, for Butera and minor league outfielder Dustin Martin.  The deal was not a popular one in Twins nation, as it appeared to be a money-saving move which made the Twins worse that season, when they weren't that far behind in the playoff hunt.  Not only that, but the two players they traded for were essentially non-prospects, Butera in particular.

Butera was the very definition of a no-hit, all-field catcher, a skill set that remains the same today.  At the time of the deal, Butera was hitting a measly .188 with a .439 OPS with the Mets' Double-A affiliate.  That wasn't that much worse than his career minor league record, as he batted .211 with a .309 slugging percent and a middling 10.1 % walk rate in 890 plate appearances over close to three seasons.  That included a full year at low Single-A in which his average finished at .186.

He played better with New Britain, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, both for the remainder of 2007 and in 2008, but better for Butera still meant an OPS in the mid-to-high .700's.  When he moved up to Triple-A in 2009, his performance drooped back to an embarrassing level that was not adequate for any big league player, regardless of his position and defensive attributes.

But with the 2010 season came an opening on the Twins' roster, as long-time backup Mike Redmond departed from Minnesota.  Butera won the job as Joe Mauer's caddy over Jose Morales because of his superior defense.  Not surprisingly, considering his minor league track record, Butera was one of the very worst hitters in the major leagues.  He hit under .200 for the year and managed an OPS of just .533.

The same story has repeated itself in 2011.  Butera is hitting even worse this year, as his OPS has dipped to an astonishingly low .472.  Only one player with more plate appearances has a worse OPS or a worse wOBA (it's Reid Brignac), and only one player has a worse batting average (that would be Adam Dunn).  He's been able to keep his backup job because of Minnesota's fascination with his defense, and also because the Twins lack better options.  Having traded away Jose Morales and Wilson Ramos, the best alternatives--Rene Rivera and Steve Holm--got their chances this year, but hit similarly to Butera and didn't have his defensive reputation.

Butera seems to truly be a sterling defensive catcher, but no level of defense can make up for his league-worst hitting.  As long as he only plays in a reserve role, he won't harm the Twins too much.  If he's forced into a starting role, however, as he was earlier this season when Mauer was out, it could become a serious problem.

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