"I was hoping maybe I'd get the opportunity, but didn't know if it would happen or not," Butler said of the Padres' decision to send him to the AFL. "But now I get to get some innings in before next season."
Butler blew out his elbow as a sophomore in 2012 at Northwest Florida State JC -- after transferring from Marshall -- and subsequently missed the 2013 season. He transferred again the following year, this time to the University of Charlotte, where he showcased an explosive upper-90s fastball as a starter. The Padres liked what they saw in the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander, leading to his selection in the seventh round of the 2014 Draft.
"Sometimes I wish it didn't happen, but, looking back on it, I wouldn't change a thing," Butler said, reflecting on his amateur career. "But it's helped me get to where I am today, and I think it's going to help me keep going."
Butler was dominant as Class A Fort Wayne's closer in 2014 in his professional debut, recording 10 saves while pitching to a stellar 0.83 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings (18 appearances). Yet, despite his overwhelming success out of the bullpen, the Padres opted to develop the 23-year-old as a starter this past season.
Butler adjusted to his new role surprisingly well and made an immediate impact as part of Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore's rotation, posting a 1.96 ERA in 41 2/3 innings spanning seven starts in the hitter-friendly California League. The strong performance led to a promotion in late May to Double-A San Antonio, although he would make only three starts for the Missions before landing on the disabled list.
"That was unfortunate," said Butler. "I felt real good at the time and got to Double-A and was real excited about it -- and then I had to shut it down for two-and-a-half months."
Butler has worked out of the bullpen almost exclusively since the injury, and he seems likely to stick in that role given his high-octane heater and lack of a standout secondary pitch. But that's not to say he's entirely ruled out the idea of starting.
"I love both," he said. "Last year I got to close a little bit, and that was awesome, but I also love starting. I've done it my entire life. If you can go seven innings and [throw] no-run to two-run ball every game -- there's nothing better than that.
"Whatever happens is good with me. I just want to make it to the big leagues some day."
Padres hitters in the Fall League
• Fernando Perez, 2B - After an impressive full-season debut in 2014 at Fort Wayne, the Padres' No. 15 prospect scuffled this year at Lake Elsinore, batting .224/.291/.352 in 113 games. The 22-year-old once again showed good raw power, hitting 10 home runs and accruing 34 extra-base hits, but he also struck out 23.4 percent of the time as his aggressive approach and fringy pitch recognition were exploited by advanced arms in the California League.
• Gabriel Quintana, 3B - The 23-year-old took a step back this season in his second tour of the California League, batting .245 with a .274 on-base percentage and a worrisome 3.3 percent walk rate. He fared better after a promotion to Double-A San Antonio toward the end of the regular season, delivering four home runs and four doubles despite playing in only 10 games. Between both levels, Quintana posted a .694 OPS with 16 home runs, 35 doubles and 63 RBIs.
• Nick Torres, OF - A fourth-round Draft pick in 2014 out of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Torres, the Padres' No. 21 prospect, turned in a promising full-season debut this year, batting .305/.352/.439 with 44 doubles, five home runs and four triples in 129 games between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore.
Padres pitchers in the Fall League
• Cody Hebner, RHP - Hebner got a late start to the season -- he didn't take the mound until early June -- and then struggled to throw strikes during his time in the California and Texas Leagues, posting a 6.23 ERA with 28 walks in 30 1/3 innings across both levels. However, the 24-year-old right-hander did fan 30 batters while holding opposing hitters to a paltry .165 batting average.
• Elliot Morris, RHP - Acquired from the Angels before the 2014 Trade Deadline as part of the Huston Street deal, Morris, the Padres' No. 28 prospect, missed more than a month of the regular season at San Antonio with discomfort in his right elbow. Overall, the 23-year-old right-hander pitched to a 4.82 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and 72/44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 102 2/3 innings for the Missions.
• Eric Yardley, RHP - Yardley pitched well out of the bullpen for Lake Elsinore, converting 16 of 20 save opportunities and registering a 2.72 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, and ultimately capped his season with five appearances at San Antonio. The 25-year-old once again demonstrated advanced control of his full arsenal and posted an excellent groundball rate, although he did allow more hits and recorded fewer strikeouts than he did during his 2014 full-season debut.