Major League teams call up minor leaguers for almost every game in spring training to fill gaps in the roster. They are there just in case something happens.
One of the players the Red Sox had in Houston last night was Dan Butler, a 24-year-old catcher. He got in the game and belted a two-run homer in the ninth inning, a bomb to left field at Minute Maid Park off Gustavo Chacin. It hit the railroad tracks above the wall and bounced out of the place.
Nice story, right?
It gets better. Butler was redshirted as a freshman at the University of Arizona. He then had Tommy John surgery in 2007 and spent his career with the Wildcats as a backup. He was eligible for the draft in 2009 and was not one of the 1,521 players taken.
Butler landed a spot in the Cape Cod League, hoping something would break for him. It did because the Red Sox needed a backup catcher at Lowell, their Rookie League team. They signed him as a undrafted free agent.
Butler is now entering his third season with the Sox having hit .283 with 45 extra-base hits in 413 at-bats as a professional. He is regarded as an excellent catcher and was a South Atlantic League All-Star last season. The former college backup is a now a legitimate prospect.
It speaks well of the Red Sox that people like vice president of player development and amateur scouting Mike Hazen will give players a legitimate chance regardless of how much the organization has invested in them. Perhaps Butler will become the next Daniel Nava, a player who comes out of the woodwork of baseball to make a valuable contribution.
Butler’s parents and grandparents were at the game last night, driving 18 hours from Arizona to Houston.
“I don’t know if you guys could see the dugout when Butler came in the dugout, but you got a Major League team, veterans, that are mobbing him,” Terry Francona told reporters last night. “Everybody knew his family was here. That was really fun. That was fun for him and his family.”