They’re still headed for 90-plus losses in a disappointing season, but the Royals have quietly climbed out of last place in the AL Central by going 12-7 in September and Billy Butler has solidified his standing as one of baseball’s best young hitters by going 24-for-70 (.343) with 12 extra-base hits, 18 RBIs, and a 12/12 K/BB ratio this month.
Butler destroyed minor-league pitching after the Royals made him the 14th pick in the 2004 draft, batting at least .300 at every level and .336/.416/.561 in 397 games overall. Now he’s beating up big-league pitching at the age of 23, hitting .314/.381/.537 with 10 homers, 22 doubles, and 47 RBIs in 61 games since the All-Star break.
Plenty of young hitters find success in the majors, but what makes “Bam Bam” unique is that he combines a gaudy batting average with lots of power, solid plate discipline, and a low strikeout rate, all of which bode well for his continued growth as an offensive force. With two weeks remaining he’s hitting an even .300 with 68 extra-base hits, 52 walks, and 93 strikeouts in 620 plate appearances spread over 147 games.
If he can maintain a .300 batting average for the next dozen games while smacking two extra-base hits and avoiding more than six strikeouts, Butler would join some pretty exclusive company. Here’s a complete list of all the 23-year-old hitters in baseball history who’ve managed to bat .300 with at least 70 extra-base hits and 50 walks while striking out fewer than 100 times:
Ted Williams Joe DiMaggio Frank Robinson
Hank Aaron Stan Musial Cal Ripken Jr.
Lou Gehrig Albert Pujols Fred Lynn
Willie Mays Mel Ott Harlond Clift
Mickey Mantle Hank Greenberg Hanley Ramirez
Ken Griffey Jr. Duke Snider
Not a bad set of names, huh? Butler trying to become the 18th member of that club and Zack Greinke going for the Cy Young award will at least give Royals fans something to root for down the stretch. General manager Dayton Moore and manager Trey Hillman haven’t inspired a whole lot of confidence in Kansas City, but having the 23-year-old Butler and 25-year-old Greinke as long-term building blocks is a pretty nice start.
Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.
Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.
The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.
The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.
It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.
According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.