Oh what could have been…
The Braves drafted Brett Butler in the 23rd round of the 1979 draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Butler was only one of four Braves draftees from 1979 to make it to the big leagues and easily had the best career. Unfortunately, most of that career came with other teams, including division rivals LA, San Fran and IWOTM!
After being drafted, Butler flew through the minors. In fact, in 1981 he started in Durham (A) and was promoted straight to Richmond (AAA). He earned a late-season call up in 1981 and was tabbed as the future center fielder and leadoff hitter. That is exactly what he did to start 1982.
Butler started off the 1982 campaign pretty well. He was getting on base at a .388 clip and wasn’t striking out much. By the end of April, though, the league caught up to him and he started to unravel. By July, he was back in Richmond.
When Butler was recalled in mid August, he couldn’t get in a groove and was pretty much a bench player for the rest of the season. Butler finished the year hitting .217 with a .291 OBP. He did steal 21 bases, though.
The 1983 season would be different. Butler lead the league in triples and stole 39 bases, putting up close to 3 WAR. The Braves then sent Butler to Cleveland (with Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna AND CASH!) for Len Barker. This deal alone sums up the Braves from 1984-1990. Jacoby would become a two time All-Star. Barker signed a huge deal with the Braves and won 10 games before being released in 1986.
As you may know, Butler eventually went to the Giants and later the Dodgers where he became one of the most feared leadoff hitters in the game. He had very little pop, but may have been one of the greatest bunters of all time. While he only had one All-Star appearance, he received downballot MVP votes in five different seasons and was 12th in baseball in WAR from 1984-1995 — just behind Lou Whitaker and just ahead of Paul Molitor.
In my mind, Butler is the ceiling for Mallex Smith. Both are left handed center fielders with little pop. Smith probably has more speed; Butler probably was a better hitter. If we can get Butler’s career out of Smith, we’ll have something.
That is, if we don’t send him to Cleveland for another dead arm.