For backup catchers, life in Major League Baseball isn’t as glamorous as it may seem. Often, they play only once a week, appearing in blowouts, rain-delayed games or day games following a late-night game.
And yet, backup catchers are expected to stay fresh, with limited opportunities to hone their craft.
“If you are going to be a backup catcher and stay in the big leagues for a long time, you better be able to catch, throw, block balls in the dirt and call a good game,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s where your value comes from. Whatever you hit, from that point on, is just going to be gravy.”
Enter Drew Butera, the Royals’ backup catcher since being traded to Kansas City from the Los Angeles Angels in 2015.
Butera, 33, has played for four teams during his eight-year major-league career. In that time, he has only finished with a batting average over .200 once, in 2016.
In his first full season as a Royal, Butera started in 34 games as he set career highs in doubles (10), home runs (four), batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.328) and slugging percentage (.480).
“Drew is starting to figure out the offensive side a little bit and what it takes to be successful,” Yost said. “Drew has done a great job, because all of his focus goes to the defensive side, but last year, he really started to figure some things out offensively.”
At the moment, there are only two catchers in the majors with a batting average over .290, Buster Posey and Salvador Perez, and there are only six league-wide with an average over .250. Yost credited that to the difficulty of playing the position.
“It’s difficult, because they don’t just wake up in the morning and go hit,” Yost said. “They have to formulate game plans for the offensive side and the defensive side of the game. It’s a huge, huge mental workload every single day.”
According to Yost, Butera has never had an issue with the mental preparation of the game.
“Drew is tremendously prepared every day, whether he is catching that day or whether he’s off that day,” Yost said.
Butera has found his way into the lineup as of late, catching for starting pitcher Jason Hammel. Yost said Butera and Hammel are now on the same wavelength.
Going into Sunday’s game, Hammel was 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 12 strikeouts over 20 2/3 innings in his three previous starts, all of which Butera started. Hammel and Butera teamed up again in Sunday’s 8-2 loss in the series finale against the Toronto Blue Jays, with Hammel giving up two runs in five innings.