Tampa Bay Rays rookie Joey Butler is currently hitting .336/.370/.504 with a wRC+ of 152. That puts him slightly behind Joc Pederson and Alex Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who clock in at 158 and 153 respectively, and a few notches ahead of Chicago Cubs phenom Kris Bryant (145).
Pederson and Bryant are not surprise names on a list like that: both received plenty of pre-season hype. But Joey Butler? Who is he?
Butler was a 15th round pick in 2008 from the University of New Orleans, selected by the Texas Rangers. He was an excellent hitter in college, batting .342/.403/.541 in 119 games over two seasons, but defensive limitations precluded a higher draft spot.
He kept hitting in pro ball, though, particularly when he reached Triple-A. He feasted on Pacific Coast League pitching for three seasons, hitting .305/.378/.473 in 1513 at-bats, but he never received much play as a prospect. It was the PCL, after all. He did receive 12 at-bats with the Rangers in 2013, going 4-for-12 with two doubles, but by that point he was 27 years old. The St. Louis Cardinals claimed him on waivers last spring, but released him in May. He played briefly in Japan last summer but made his way back to the United States for 2015.
And here he is, hitting the snot out of the ball in the majors so far. Is it sustainable?
Probably not at this level. Despite his hotness right now, his BB/K/PA ratio is unattractive at 4/37/138. He's been quite aggressive and so far the pitchers haven't taken advantage of it, but they will eventually.
It is possible he can make some counter-adjustments once the pitchers do. His walk rates showed steady improvement through his minor league career along with a slight decline in strikeouts, a sign of a hitter adapting to his competition.
We shouldn't write him off as a total fluke, but it isn't very likely he'll still be hitting .336/.370/.504 in the major leagues 400 at-bats from now. His MLEs make him out as more of a .260ish hitter, albeit with enough power to be useful as a role player. Enjoy the hot streak but we should view Butler as a contributor, not a lineup mainstay.