Prior to 2010 many people thought Billy Butler could take the next step in his development.  People hoped that the power, which was the one true drawback, would finally come around.  He had hit 21 home runs in 2009, with 51 doubles, so there was reason to be optimistic.

Unfortunately, he fell flat, regressing in both numbers:

595 At Bats
.318 Batting Average (189 Hits)
15 Home Runs
78 RBI
77 Runs
0 Stolen Bases
.388 On Base Percentage
.469 Slugging Percentage
.341 Batting Average on Balls in Play

He continues to show a great ability at the plate.  He posted a 13.1 percent strikeout rate and 10.2 percent walk rate, improving on his 2009 rates (16.9 percent and 8.6 percent).  With what he’s shown, there are plenty of reasons to believe that he can maintain his improved rates in 2011.

The BABIP may not seem believable, but it’s the second straight season he’s posted a mark better then .330.  He’s proven that he is capable of maintaining this type of number, which helps to support him as a perennial .300 hitter.

That’s great and all, but from a first baseman we all know what we are looking for…  Power.

If he can’t hit for 25 or 30 home runs, his value to fantasy owners decreases significantly.  There are just too many other options that will give owners big power numbers that if you don’t have one, you fall behind your competitors.

While the doubles regressed to 45, that still tied him for fifth in the league.  At 23-years old (he’ll turn 24 in April), it certainly is possible that he adds strength.  Could some of those doubles finally start flying over the fences?

His fly ball rate has been consistent, with a 34.0 percent mark last season.  So, all he needs to do is improve on his 8.5 percent HR/FB rate.

What does he need to get to?  In 2010 Ryan Braun had a 34.9 percent fly ball rate and 14.0 percent HR/FB.  The result was a 25 home run campaign.  If Butler could get to that mark, to go along with his average, his value increases significantly.

He gave us hope late in the season that it would be possible.  In September, he posted a HR/FB of 12.5 percent (and a fly ball rate of 34.0 percent), leading to four home runs.

Of course, hitting in the Royals order is going to limit his value somewhat.  Barring significant improvements to the cast around him, he’s going to have minimal chances to both score runs and drive runs in.  While there is significant talent in the minor leagues who could ultimately fill the voids, it’s impossible to anticipate them making a significant contribution in 2011.

That means Butler may once again be the lone threat in the middle of the Royals order, meaning he may have to settle for walks when there are runners on base.  That certainly hurts his potential upside.

Let’s look at what I’m projecting for him in 2011:

.313 (188-500), 24 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R, 0 SB, .333 BABIP, .384 OBP, .508 SLG

Maybe I’m a bit too optimistic, but with what he’s shown at the plate there is every reason to believe that he could take the next step.  Of course, at first base, these numbers are moderate, but not among the leagues best. 

I would consider him a good option in the mid-rounds of your draft, but he certainly wouldn’t be my top choice to start at 1B (he’s much better suited to be a corner infielder entering the year).  If the power doesn’t develop as I’m hoping, he’s likely to hurt more then help.

What are your thoughts of Butler?  Will 2011 be the year he takes the next step?  Is he someone you would use as your starting first baseman?

Make sure to check out our 2011 projections:

Freese, David
Jaso, John
Morrow, Brandon
Willingham, Josh


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