In the old days, when a baseball player thought he might get drafted, he spent the day of the draft by the phone. These days, he spends his day on the phone, but not waiting for it to ring.
Jake Butler, a 2010 Minooka Community High School graduate who recently finished a stellar baseball career at University of St. Francis in Joliet, was keeping track of the draft on his phone. Suddenly, in the 29th round, he saw his name pop up as a selection by the Detroit Tigers.
“I had an idea I might get drafted,” Butler said from the Tigers’ rookie camp in Lakeland, Florida. “I had talked to some scouts and some teams showed some interest, and I had some workouts with them. Nobody called me to tell me I was going to be drafted, but I had a feeling.
“I was watching the draft on my phone and saw my name pop up. It was probably the coolest feeling I have ever had. Then, people started calling me, and eventually, the scout I had talked to before did.”
Butler hopped a plane to Florida, and the finance major, who has one more semester to finish up his degree at USF, signed a professional contract with the Tigers on Wednesday.
“I knew no matter what, whether I was drafted or not, that I wanted to continue playing baseball,” Butler said. “A couple scouts told me that if I ended up not getting drafted that I could always try independent baseball and try to get a look that way. But I also had a team offer to take me in the top 10 rounds if I would sign for less money.
“I figured if there was interest in taking me that high, that someone else would take me eventually.”
There’s good reason to take Butler. At a school with such a rich baseball tradition, Butler ranks first in career wins with 33 and strikeouts with 325. His win total tops the 31 by USF Hall of Fame member Nick Cladis (1981-84), and the strikeouts eclipse the total of 305 set by Don Peters from 1987-90. Peters was a first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics in 1990.
The 880th player selected, Butler finished his playing career at St. Francis this spring.
En route to being named Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2014, the right-handed Butler posted a 10-2 record with a 2.02 ERA. In 98 innings, he collected 107 strikeouts and held opposing batters to a .186 average.
Butler completed nine of his 14 starts with a pair of shutouts to help lift the Saints (38-22) to the CCAC regular-season championship and a berth in the NAIA Opening Round. Among his nine complete games were a one-hitter against Roosevelt University and three two-hitters, including a 13-inning stint against Robert Morris University. Another of his two-hitters – against Calumet College of St. Joseph – earned him NAIA National Pitcher of the Week honors. In his final outing as a Saint, he went the distance as St. Francis upset then No. 6-ranked Georgia Gwinnett University, 3-2, in the NAIA opening round.
For his career, Butler posted a 33-9 record in 53 appearances – all starts. He notched a 2.52 ERA with 325 strikeouts in 333 2⁄3 innings.
Butler is confident that the lessons he learned from his coaches along the way, along with his durability during his four-year stint at St. Francis, will be an advantage in the pro ranks.
“I am sure my durability helped my chances,” he said. “I just did what my coaches told me, took care of my shoulder and that was about it. I feel like one of my biggest strengths is that I have a pretty good fastball and I have pretty good control over it. I also have a curve, and I know I have to work on a third pitch, like a changeup, and get command of that.
“I am not sure whether they will want me to start or relieve. There were only like six guys here when I got here, and eight more came today [Thursday]. Our first game is the 20th of June, and we finish up at the end of August. After that, I don’t know if I will get assigned somewhere else or what. I will just wait and see how it plays out.”
And we all can keep track of his progress on our phones.