They say there’s a positive that comes with every negative.
If that old adage holds true, the catching situation surrounding the Boston Red Sox is a good example.
On the surface, it looks like it’s been all bad and more for the Sox behind the plate. A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year deal only to play his way out of town. Ryan Lavarnway has been sidelined with a foot injury, while primary backup David Ross joined Lavarnway with plantar fasciitis. A scenario that had we played out prior to the season, the assumption would be that the team was in or near last place, which is ultimately where the team has ended up, appropriately enough.
But the year of attrition for the Red Sox catching corps has been rewarding to some. First and foremost, it has given catcher of the future Christian Vazquez an opportunity to break into the bigs and get his feet wet. And with the latest injury — Ross going on the DL — Dan Butler has been given his first shot at the bigs.
A promotion that didn’t create the shockwaves the calling up of Vazquez did, or top catching prospect Blake Swihart will when he gets the call within the next couple years (provided he doesn’t get traded), the promotion of Butler gets better as one delves deeper into his story.
A backup catcher at the University of Arizona, Butler punched his ticket to professional baseball with an impressive showing in the Cape Cod League in 2009. Playing for the Brewster Whitecaps, he caught the eye of a Red Sox scout. As a result, he was signed and sent to the Lowell Spinners. And the rest is history.
Playing 490 games over six seasons in the Red Sox organization, Butler has countered strong play behind the plate with a .254 average and .763 OPS, 47 home runs and 239 RBI. He led the whole Red Sox organization with a .310 batting average in 2010, his first full season as a pro. Last season, he was named the MVP of the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox when he hit .262 with an .829 OPS, 14 home runs and 45 RBI.
The report on Butler is that he is a strong defensive catcher with an average bat and exceptional knowledge of pitching staffs. Likely a career backup should he stick in the majors, Butler — who turns 28 in October — is very comparable to Ross — the man he’s replacing — and longtime Red Sox backup Doug Mirabelli.
So he’s not a blue-chip prospect like Vazquez or Swihart. He’s not even a prospect at all depending on how you look at it.
But this isn’t about stats, scouting reports or career trajectories. This is about a guy who realized the role he would need to accept in order to make it. Like a forward who hones his forechecking and puck protection skills for a bottom-six role in the NHL, or a linebacker who works on his blocking and tackling skills for a special teams role in the NFL, Butler made it a point to be the best defensive catcher and handler of pitchers there was. Thriving in the role that leads to a long, steady MLB career, while little glory may come of it.
And guess what? He made it.