Billy Butler returns this weekend to a standing ovation at the K, a tribute to his decade of service to their Royals organization and the loyalty Royals fans have to guys that stick around here. Billy had his ups and downs in Kansas City, but he was able to cap off his Royals career with the most amazing post-season run in franchise history. With Billy back in town, let's take a look back at his career.
Billy Ray Butler was a hitting phenom at Wolfson High School in Jacksonville, Florida ( I totally forgot this, but he was an accomplished pitcher as well, with a fastball in the low 90s). He was named a first-team All-American by Baseball America, who called him the best prep power bat in the draft. The Royals took Butler with the 14th overall pick in the draft, bypassing shortstop Stephen Drew, considered one of the best players in the draft, and Missouri pitcher Scott Elbert.
Butler has a mature approach. He trusts his quick hands and allows balls to get deep in the zone, giving him excellent loft power. He has natural rhythm to his swing and excellent hand-eye and body coordination. He hasn't always stayed patient this year while being been pitched around. He'll have to move across the diamond to first, or take his plus arm strength to a corner outfield spot, but he has the raw power to make the move work.
"We've got an impact-type bat right here," said Cliff Pastornicky, who scouted him for the Royals. "He's very, very disciplined for a high school kid. But when he does get his pitch, he's aggressive on it. He has power to all fields."
-Royals scout Cliff Pastornicky
Butler signed a few days later with the Royals for $1.4 million, leading some to believe he had been selected for his "signability." Butler quickly put those notions to rest as he tore up the Pioneer League that summer, hitting .373/.488/.596 with 10 home runs in 74 games. Butler continued destroying baseball in the ridiculous hitting environment of High Desert, hitting .348/.419/.636 with 25 home runs in 91 games before the team finally promoted him to AA Wichita. Just 19 years old, Butler was facing pitchers four or five years older than him, if not more. He held his own with an .880 OPS, then repeated the performance in 2006 as he played with teammate Alex Gordon under the tutelage of Royals legend Frank White. Baseball America named him the 25th best prospect in baseball. Despite that, there were rumors the Royals were discussing sending him to Seattle for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.
After a hot start for Omaha in 2007, the Royals finally promoted Butler to the big leagues on May 1. He singled in his first at-bat. Butler - believe it or not - played left-field in that game, as he had proven he was a defensively deficient at third base. In the third inning, Chone Figgins sent a fly ball to left. Billy stumbled, looked unsure, and reached his glove out. The ball stuck. The crowd nervously applauded. Billy was here.
After a brief demotion to Omaha, Billy was brought back in June. On July 3, he homered and drove in six in a 17-3 win over Seattle. On July 20, he had his first four-hit game against Detroit, the first of fifteen four-hit games in his career for the Royals (three of which were five-hit games). Billy went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles in the season finale, putting his rookie numbers at .292/.347/.447.
"It takes a lot of humility. You learn a lot about yourself...I know I had things to work on, emotionally and everything. I'm just glad to be back. I'm happy with my life."
Billy struggled in 2008, getting demoted back to Omaha at one point, and proving to the Royals he was not cut out to play baseball with a glove on his hand. He got off to a slow start in 2009, but this four-hit, two-home run performance against Toronto in April jump-started his season. Billy had a sensation second-half and ended the season at .301/.362/.492 with 21 HR 93 RBI. His 51 doubles were second in the league and he finished tenth in the league in total bases. He improved his OPS in 2010 to a line of .318/.388/.469, but led the league in ground outs into double plays with 32, setting himself up as a target for fans for years to come.
The Royals locked up Butler to a long-term team deal after the 2010 season with a four-year $30 million contract with a club option for the 2015 season. With the "best farm system in the history of whatever" and cornerstone players Billy Butler and Alex Gordon locked up to long-term contracts, the future of the Royals looked bright.
"I love the city, I love the people here and you’re not going to find a better stadium...There’s just so many things that are great here in Kansas City, and we’ve got the players to make it happen."
Butler put up another typical Butler-type season in 2011. He hit a walk-off home run against the Angels in June, then hit five home runs during a four-game stretch in late July to show a glimpse of the power he had, but he never quite became the big power hitter some thought he could become. The exception to that was his 2012 season.
Billy homered twice in the first week of the season, then had his seventh multi-home run game of his career with two blasts against the Indians. Billy hit five home runs over a nine-game stretch in May, and it began to look like Steve Balboni's franchise record of 36 home runs may fall.
"There’s no doubt I’m as strong as I’ve ever been," Butler said. "Me and Stony, our strength coach, worked out all off-season, and it’s paying dividends."
Billy was named to his first All-Star team with the game to be played in Kansas City. With Billy hitting for more power than ever, and American League Home Run Derby Captain Robinson Cano indicating he would select a hometown player, it looked like Billy might even get to participate in the home run derby. Billy was snubbed, which would lead to the "Boo Cano" movement. The moment really captured the career of Billy Butler in Kansas City well. Billy had some holes to his game - he was slow, couldn't field, hit the ball on the ground a lot leading to double plays. But he was ours, and we loved him the same, warts and all.
Billy ended that year with 29 home runs, the most by a Royals player since Carlos Beltran reached that total in 2002. His line of .313/.373/.510 was easily a career best, and it appeared at age 26, Billy was finally evolving into the power hitter Royals fans hoped he would become.
They would be disappointed. Billy crashed in 2013 with just eight home runs by the All-Star break. The doubles were gone too, and with his average slumping, Billy finished the year with just a .412 slugging percentage. There would be no bounce-back in 2014 either, as Billy's numbers tumbled even further. He struggled mightily the entire first half of the season, with his batting average below .250 until June. He began to be dropped in the lineup and eventually benched at times. Rumors of friction between him and the organization that had surfaced from time to time, became louder.
All would be forgiven during the Royals post-season run. Billy was 2-for-4 in the Wild Card game, with RBI singles in the first and eighth innings. He would go hitless during the American League Division Series, but would draw three walks and give Royals this amazing moment when he stole second in the Game Three clincher.
Billy had a chance to be a hero when he received a standing ovation in the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series, but he popped up, the frustrating end to a frustrating season for Billy, and the last time we would see him in Royal blue.
After the series, the Royals declined Billy's $12.5 million option, and while many of us held out hope they could work out some team-friendly deal, we all knew it was probably over. Oakland quickly offered a surprisingly large contract to Billy, and although Billy insists he wanted to return, the Royals weren't as eager for a reunion. Country Breakfast took his services to the East Bay. Billy ends his Royals career eighth in franchise history in games played (1166), seventh in home runs (127), seventh in hits (1273), sixth in doubles (276), and sixth in RBI (628).
But this weekend he returns, if just for a few days. Seeing him in kelly green and yellow is like seeing an ex. You remember the good times fondly, and the bad times don't seem so bad, and - has he lost weight? But then you remember, there was a reason it didn't work out, so you wish him well, and go on your way.
Welcome back Billy. You'll always have a home in Kansas City.