Staten Island’s Saxon Butler was the subject of my fourth New York-Penn League Notebook this season, which ran last Friday on MiLB.com. I caught up with Butler prior to the Yankees game against the Lowell Spinners on July 16 and he immediately made me feel good about choosing him for my story, launching a long homerun to right field in the third inning.
I also have to feel good about my timing – Butler has homered once since that game and has been battling a slump, which momentarily made the fact that I even mentioned the Triple Crown seem a little bit silly, but many of his offensive numbers were still at or near the top of the league through the weekend.
One thing I don’t feel good about? That I didn’t ask Butler about his name until after the interview was done and the recorder was off. I also didn’t write the names of his siblings down when he told me, though I think it’s enough to remember that one of his sisters is named Amy Sunshine (for KC and the Sunshine Band) and another is named for the Fleetwood Mac song Rhiannon. As noted in the MiLB.com story, Butler’s name comes from the English heavy metal band Saxon.
You’re off to a great start. How do you avoid the struggles that you often see with guys that come in and try to adapt to the professional game and professional lifestyle?
I don’t really think it’s something you’d avoid. I mean, eventually everyone hits some kind of rut. It’s baseball, it’s the way the game is. I just come out here every day, try to work hard and everything, try to perfect my swing. Try to get better on what I did wrong before and learn from my mistakes and try to keep everything rolling.
How would you describe your approach right now, at the plate?
Right now I’m just looking for pitches that I can handle and drive. I always go up there thinking the first two strikes are mine. If a pitcher makes a good pitch I’m going to try not to swing at it – just because it’s a strike doesn’t mean I can drive it – and then with two strikes I really try to see the ball deep and if I get beat it’s going to be on an inside fastball and [I] get jammed. Really the thing that’s getting me right now is I’m chasing high and outside with two strikes, trying to do too much. I just need to slow it down a little bit. I have to work on slowing things down and letting the game come to me.
You mentioned getting out of your approach a little bit. Is it tough to stay within that when you’re going pretty well and you feel like pitchers might be trying to approach you differently or approach you with more intensity? Is it tough to stay doing the things you have to be doing?
Yeah it is. I don’t think it’s necessarily, though, the way the pitcher pitches me. I think sometimes when you get going good, you feel like you can hit anything thrown up there. And that’s what gets me in trouble sometimes – I’ll be going good and I’ll for some reason think, “I can hit this pitch,” when there’s no way I can make solid contact with it and I’ll get myself out. And that’s frustrating. But you kind of know what the pitchers are going to do to you. They’ve got scouting reports. By your first couple at-bats – like me, I’ll watch the lefties that hit in front of me, see what pitchers do to them – I feel like I have a good idea going up there.
Obviously, I say that you got off to a good start this year, I’m looking at the numbers and saying that you’re off to a good start. How much do you pay attention to your numbers?
I try not to look at that kind of thing because like I said, baseball’s a game of failure. Everything in baseball is counted and you’re going to fail a lot more times than you succeed in this game. It can be a really humbling game, too, and it will be a humbling game. You can come out here and get off to a hot start, then all of a sudden go 0-for-20. It’s a mentality. You have to stay mentally strong, confident in your ability to play this game, and know that sometimes things aren’t going to go your way. You’ve got to worry about the things you can control in this game, not the things you can’t. You can go up there and have four hard-hit balls, but line out four times, hit them right to people. And that’s not something you control. You went out there, had a good quality at-bat, made good contact, you just couldn’t control the outcome.
I noticed you’ve been in the three and four spots this season. Is that where you prefer to be or does it not matter where you are as long as you’re playing?
My whole life I’ve hit usually in the three hole, sometimes in the four, but I don’t think that really matters anymore now once you get to this stage. I’ll play wherever they want me to play and hit wherever they want me to hit. I’m just happy to be getting at-bats and doing well and being able to help contribute to winning.
You went in the 33rd round this year. Was that where you were expecting to be, or did you expect to go higher?
I was a senior Draft pick. I thought I’d go, I just didn’t know when. Nobody really told me anything. I was just hoping to hear my name called and get a shot at this stage and see if I can compete and try to put my name out there.
I was actually really surprised when I looked at it, and this might be ignorance on my part, but I was surprised to look and see a bunch of Samford guys taken throughout the Draft. Did you guys get together at all during those three days and experience it together or did everybody do their own thing?
Two days before the Draft we had lost in the regional in Tallahassee. We had just gotten back to Samford and I think everybody was either moving out or going home, and then the Draft started. So we never really got together. We got text messages throughout the day on Draft day, same thing from each other, and words of encouragement for some of the guys who fell or got taken sooner than expected. At Samford we were a real close bunch, being a mid-major school and first time to a regional. It was a great year for us. We were like a real close-knit family there. We keep in touch, kept in touch on Draft day, but we didn’t really have any get-togethers for it.
A lot of the guys that were drafted actually ended up here in the New York-Penn League this season. I know it’s still fairly early in the year, but do you guys make an effort to catch up when you cross paths?
Yeah, our first game this year we faced Tyler Vanderheiden, a pitcher from our school that ended up getting a save in the first game of the year this year for the Cyclones. He’s the only one we’ve faced so far from our team, but we’ll see Brandon Miller from the Auburn Doubledays and the Nationals; Josh Martin, who I’ve actually talked to a few times this week, is with the Indians in Mahoning Valley, who was just here [in Lowell] right before we got here; and then I think [Lex] Rutledge is either still in the GCL with the Orioles or he’s coming up to Aberdeen or will be up in Aberdeen. Every time we see each other we talk and try to get together, but really the only person I’ve seen so far is Vandy and he’s in Brooklyn, which is basically thirty minutes from where I am in Staten Island. But when we see each other we’ll get together, go out to dinner, catch up.
You’ve got a guy right in the clubhouse there with you too, don’t you?
Oh yeah, [Charles] Basford!
Don’t have to go too far to see him.
I don’t know how I let him slip my mind because me and him went to junior college together, then went to Samford together, and then both got drafted for the Yankees. I’ve been around him for five years now [laughs]. I see him every day. We basically, ever since high school, have grown up playing this game together at a higher level, so it’s good to have him around too.
What does that mean to you to have a guy that you’ve known forever like that to be able to share something like this with him?
It’s really good. Yesterday his mom was here. His family lives in Maine and his mom and grandparents were here yesterday. First time I’ve seen her since, of course we were at Samford and everything, but first thing I asked her was, “Are you getting tired of seeing me in the same uniform as your son?” [laughs]. It’s really great to have him around. We get along good, and if one of us is going through struggles, I can tell him how he looks on the mound because I’ve seen him, and I actually was his catcher in junior college. But I can see what he’s doing on the mound and he can help me out, see what I’m doing hitting because he’s seen me hit for four years and knows what I’m doing when I’m going good and knows what I’m doing when I’m struggling. It’s really nice to have him around.
What’s that like on Draft day? Because he went a few rounds after you, right?
Yeah, I actually talked to him around the 25th, 26th round. I was texting him because me and him were two that hadn’t gone yet. And then we had a guy, Joe Burns, that went to the Rangers in the 29th and me and him were texting each other like, “Have you heard anything?” I had talked to the Yankees about four times the day before I got drafted and I told him I’d heard. He said he hadn’t. I got drafted, quit looking at the draft, and then I get a text message from our head coach saying, “Basford just got drafted by the Yankees.” I was like, “Wow. Can’t get away from him.” And then that was followed up by like four or five of my teammates, “Wow, you and Bas just can’t get away from each other.” I texted him, called him and everything, and he was excited. He was actually moving into his place in Pensacola to finish up school at West Florida and had to get his clothes back and get on a plane the next day from Pensacola to Atlanta. We met up at the airport and it was a really good moment, just meeting up and everything, both knowing we were going to play professional baseball together. It’s been fun.
Getting back briefly to the guys that you went to school with, a couple of those guys are pitchers that you might end up facing at some point…
All of them are. Brandon Miller’s the only one that’s a position player.
Is that gonna be a little bit different than facing someone that you don’t know, facing a guy that you went to school with for a couple years?
I think it will, but it could also hurt me at the same time because they know what pitches I like and what pitches I don’t like. My biggest thing is if we’re going to play Brooklyn or Mahoning Valley, if I see Vandy or Martin, I’m going to have to fight back a smile stepping in the box looking at the mound. Those guys, playing with them in college, they know my weaknesses, my strengths. I just have to try not to guess what they’re going to throw me and hopefully I can do good against them. It’ll be tough, just knowing.
Is that actually a good thing, though, because basically you’d be facing the guy who has the ultimate scouting report on you?
It actually could be. It could make them overthink themselves and throw me a pitch that they don’t think I’m looking for that I actually am looking for, maybe. So I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, but hopefully it works out in my favor against them, but who knows.