(Editor’s Note – Gotham Baseball is pleased to welcome back Jessica Quiroli to our pages, as she’ll be covering — along with award-winning author and longtime Gotham Baseball writer Ed Shakespeare — the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones for Gotham Baseball this season. – MH)
(Staten Island, NY) Saxon Butler has just begun his professional baseball career, but his maturity and intensity level has already been noted.
“He’s just fearless,” said Staten Island Yankees manager Justin Pope. “Not being afraid of going out there and sticking with his plan. He’s not playing to the lights, playing it different because it’s New York or the Yankees. It seems like nothing fazes him. He has an at-bat, forgets about it, and goes up next time and it’s a completely different at-bat.”
The infielder was drafted in June in the 33rd round out of Samford University. There he played the majority of games at first base, hitting .355 in 60 games and hit a university record-setting 26 doubles. After being drafted, he was quickly assigned to the New York Penn League SI Yankees, Class-A affiliate of the Yankees. Mostly batting third for the team, he’s hitting .367 in 30 at-bats.
He’s also hit two home runs, something Pope stresses the 6’2, 239 pound twenty-two-year old might be inclined to attempt fairly regularly.
“[He's learning] staying under control. Sometimes he takes some really big swings. He has to trust himself and not try to hit the ball to the city. Could be his size, could be that he’s getting a little anxious. He needs to stay relaxed and short to the ball.”
Butler’s anxiety could be a product of a game that, naturally, moves at a different pace in pro ball.
“It speeds up on you,” Butler said. “Eventually I’ll get the hang of it. You just have to stay in shape.”
The Yankees, they of the big power numbers, know what they’re getting in Butler. Their ability to develop high quality players has often been overlooked. But while they’ve fallen under criticism for sloppiness in the development department, Saxon seems tailor-made for the Yankees.
Mentality matters a lot. But with the Yankees there is a heightened expectation, a required appearance and an overall understanding of the high standard they place on their players. You cannot melt under those hot lights generated by the attention on the team.
“He’s very coachable. He’s still getting there, as is everybody. It’s more teaching him how to become a professional. Teaching him to come in and get your dailly work in and what it takes. What we do here and what we expect with the Yankees,” said Pope.
So far, the former Alabama All-State infielder has been effective, possibly due to his quick adjustment to the pitching, which, he acknowledges is actually not much of one at all.
“Most of the guys in this league came out of college, so basically we’re seeing a lot of the same pitching we’ve seen the last four years.”
He’s picked up on some differences that have more to do with the little white ball.
“There’s really no seams on these balls. You get a lot more backspin on them. Pitchers breaking balls can be better, but you can also hit the ball further. The only thing is adjusting from aluminum to wood. You have to make sure you stay on it. You can’t pull off.”
In Pope, the SI Yanks appear to have found the perfect equalizer and guide through this growth process. He’s clear on how he must approach a player of Butler’s ripe age and experience.
“They’re just young. You have to keep repeating yourself. They say it’s the ‘say it again league’. Sometimes they may be messing around, but it’s because they’re young. They don’t know any better. So I’m not going to be out there ranting and raving and being impatient. I’m just letting them know I’m hear for them. To teach them.”
Defensively Butler is making the bigger adjustment, he explained that, “They have me playing more off the line here than in college. I’m just playing further off. So it’s a longer trip to the bag. You’ve got make sure you get your reads.”
For now it’s baby steps. To the bag and at the plate. That fearlessness ought to help.
Everything is on the internet. These guys get done and right when they get done BP, they go in there and get on the internet. Check out their buddies and seeing who did what. They want to be good. They want to get their confidence.