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Butler is an expert in studying pitchers

Butler is an expert in studying pitchers

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Butler is an expert in studying pitchers
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Billy Butler might look like a big ol' country boy who'd just amble up to the plate and take a big ol' hack. In this case, looks are deceiving.

Underneath that facade is an analytical mind that dissects every possible aspect of hitting a baseball and the pitchers throwing that baseball.

Rising prospect Eric Hosmer found that out as he lockered near his fellow first baseman in Spring Training.

"He knows a lot about all the pitchers," Hosmer said. "Every time we face a guy, he can imitate his motion and show you how he throws and everything."

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That's part of the reason why Butler has become one of the best right-handed hitters in the Major Leagues. Going into this season, his career average is .299 and his .318 mark last year was the Royals' best since Mike Sweeney's .340 in 2002.

Just 24, Butler already has passed the 500-hit mark and his bag of 590 includes 141 doubles, 55 home runs and, yes, even three triples.

Despite going 0-for-4 against the A's on Tuesday, Butler is still hitting a robust .324 (11-for-34) with 11 RBIs and three extra-base hits in Cactus League play. So he must be pretty happy about the way he's been swinging.

"[What] I always say about Spring Training is ask me at the end of April and I'll tell you how my swing went," Butler said. "Because then I'll know how well I prepared. You can have the best spring in the world but does it matter when you go into the season?"

What really matters to Butler is the preparation part. He crams like a college student before an exam.

"I pay attention and do my homework and most of the time when I go into the game during the season, I've already watched video on a game a lot. Just because I like to see what a guy's doing. I like to pick up their tendencies and, if you pay attention to the count, you know what their tendencies are on a certain kind of a count, what their best pitch is if you get two strikes down," Butler said, just getting warmed up on the topic.

You don't have to prod Butler to talk about hitting and he continued intently:

"So if you face a guy, just to throw a name out there, like Justin Verlander. He's got a couple of really good pitches. He can throw a fastball in the upper-90s or he can throw his really hard curveball. And what he started doing later in the season to me was he saw I was adjusting to those two, so he started working in a power changeup."

The radar gun readings that flash on the scoreboards of many baseball parks around the country are of great interest to Butler. He really pays attention to pitch speeds and not just on fastballs.

"Most guys just want to know how hard he's throwing because obviously you've got to time up the fastball and adjust down," hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. "But he wants to know the velocities on all his secondary pitches, too, which also comes into play with how long you're going to wait, how much it's going to break and he wants to have a head start. A lot of guys get in there and see it and say, 'OK, now I've got it,' but Billy paints a picture before he gets in the box so he's ahead of the game that way."

Butler says he can usually tell what type of pitch is coming as he watches the ball out of a pitcher's hand and even if he's adding or subtracting speed on his fastball.

"For me, I like to prepare from the top down," he said. "I prepare for what a guy's top velocity is, so I can make sure that I know what he's got in the tank if he's trying to throw it by me and adjust from that. I can slow myself down -- nobody can speed themselves up. It's just really hard to do. If you try to speed yourself up, it's already by you. But I gear up for a fastball and say, 'No, it's a slider,' and adjust to it."

There are pitchers that test a hitter's resolve, such as the always-tricky Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox. Butler has faced Buehrle 49 times, more than any other pitcher, and he's hit .311 (14-for-45) against him with two homers and one double.

"If I face Mark Buehrle, he changes speeds a lot and I usually try to sit in the 83, 84 [mph] range and adjust. I know he can throw the 88, but I can see it out of his hand when he tries to gear up for it," Butler said. "But mostly he's throwing cutter, changeup and changing speeds. It's a chess game out there and you've got to set yourself up for success. For me, it's staying right-center and adjusting to the pitch."

During the season before a night game, Butler usually gets to the park shortly after noon, does some cardio work and then studies videotapes of the pitcher that the Royals will be facing in the game.

"Billy is way advanced for a hitter of his age. But I think what Billy's going to do is incorporate more power into his game the older he gets," manager Ned Yost said. "John Mayberry said he didn't learn how to hit for power until his fourth or fifth year in the big leagues. Then he started to understand what pitches he could lift, what pitches he could drive in certain situations and became a more complete hitter.

"And Billy's already as disciplined a hitter as I've seen. His discipline for a young hitter is off the charts. His two-strike approach is off the charts. The thing about Billy is when you get into a situation with a runner on third and less than two outs, it's quite frankly shocking when he doesn't get that guy in because he just knows what to do in those situations. But I think you'll see him evolve into more of a power hitter down the road. And he's got enough power now -- he's a doubles guy, a 20-home run guy and in a big park, that's a lot of home runs."

Yep, once he's through with his studies, this big ol' boy goes out there and swings and sometimes he just hits it a country mile.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }
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