OAKLAND – After a forgettable first season with the A’s, Billy Butler hit the ground running in preparation for Year No. 2.
He’s worked with his personal trainer on a daily basis, following a program drawn up by A’s strength and conditioning coach Mike Henriques. Those morning workouts are followed by batting-cage sessions at the team’s minor league complex in Arizona, where Butler makes his year-round home.
It’s all an effort to hit the reboot button after Butler’s introduction to Oakland fans didn’t go as planned. Viewed as one of the primary guys to help pick up the offensive slack following the trade of Josh Donaldson, Butler stumbled to a .251 batting average with 15 homers and just 65 RBI, his fewest since 2008.
Not the kind of production expected from the designated hitter, who was signed to a three-year, $30 million contract following his solid eight-year run with the Kansas City Royals.
“I’m in good shape,” Butler said Sunday at the A’s annual FanFest. “I’m strong, everything’s great. I’m gonna perform to the level they expect me to. That’s what the expectations are, and I’ve prepared this winter to do that.”
It got off to a rocky start for Butler last season in more ways than one. He reveals now that he arrived at camp still dealing with a minor left wrist injury that carried over from the end of 2014. He hardly swung the bat until he arrived for the start of full-squad workouts.
There was also the adjustment of switching organizations – Butler knew nothing else than the Royal way since being drafted in 2004 -- and moving from the slow-paced lifestyle of the Midwest to the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area.
“I know what to expect now,” Butler said. “I’m completely prepared for everything that’s ahead. Last year everything was a culture shock.”
A’s fans will probably be most heartened to hear about Butler, listed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, stepping things up from a conditioning standpoint. The dominant image last season was of Butler rumbling down the first base line during one of the 26 ground-ball double plays he hit into, tied for second-most in the American League.
He won’t be challenging Billy Burns for the team lead in infield hits, but Butler acknowledged as he approaches his age-30 season that he needs to prepare differently.
“I think I’m getting older and I’ve got to do more things to stay young,” he said. “I’m not old but I’m old in baseball terms, getting there. It’s one of those things where we’ve got to do more to keep up with these young bucks.”
The topic of conditioning is one Butler hears often, going back when he was drafted out of high school.
“I’ve always had a bigger body type, even when I was 18,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be drafted to steal bases. (But) also, hey, the questions don’t happen when you hit 30 homers. When you hit 30 home runs or 40 doubles or whatever, I don’t think anyone questions your conditioning or your offseason program. I would expect ‘em (to after last season). I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin expects Butler to arrive at spring training next month with plenty of motivation.
“For a veteran guy like him who’s had a lot of success, to have what was probably a down year for him, you’ve got some added incentive – especially being with a new team last year – to come out this year and prove to everybody that he’s the guy we signed for a reason,” Melvin said.