Lawrence Butler began the 2023 season with a great showing at big league spring training and then advanced through two levels to make his major league debut in August. Butler struggled at the plate during the small sample over the final two months, but still looks like a potential building block for the Athletics going forward.
The Athletics drafted Butler in the sixth round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of Westlake High School in Atlanta.
What were the expectations?
Butler has been a fixture on prospect lists for the Athletics since being drafted and took a significant step forward in 2023. Butler turned in an impressive 12-game stint during major league spring training and kept it up with a strong showing at Double A which was followed by a promotion to Triple A. There is still work to be done as his late season struggles in the majors showed, but he looks like a potential building block for the Athletics as they advance through their rebuild.
Butler wasted little time making a strong impression on the major league staff by going 11-for-23 with 10 RBI in 12 spring games. Six of those hits went for extra bases and he had as many walks (4) as he did strikeouts. That was big for Butler who struck out over 31 percent of the time at High A in 2022. He began the season at Double A and saw a promotion to Triple A after just 67 games. He hit .284/.350/.475 with 15 homers and 21 stolen bases across 89 games at both levels.
The A’s promoted him to the majors on August 11 and he finished the season playing pretty much every day. He is projected to eventually settle into a corner outfield spot, but played well defensively in center in a small sample. Butler struggled at the plate in the majors hitting just .211/.240/.341 with four homers and a 60 wRC+. The strikeout rate jumped back up to 27.1 percent and he struggled to adjust to major league caliber breaking balls and off speed pitches.
What went right? What went wrong?
It is hard to nitpick Butler’s 2023 season even with his struggles at the plate in the majors. Cutting his strikeout rate to under 20 percent at the upper levels of the minors showed significant development. It can also be noted that in his struggles in the majors, his .251 wOBA underperformed his .291 xwOBA. Neither number was good, but maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as the numbers suggest. You’d like to see continued development with the swing and miss, but he has met every challenge so far and at 23 years of age, he still has plenty of time.
Butler will come into camp looking to win a spot in Oakland’s outfield for Opening Day. It is still a crowded situation with holdovers Esteury Ruiz, Seth Brown, JJ Bleday and others still on the roster. There is always the case that Butler could use some more time in Triple A as well, but should he show he is ready, Oakland has no incentive not to create a spot for him.