If everything had stayed on track for Ryan Butler, 2012-13 would have been his junior season of college baseball.
Instead, Butler spent that school year rehabilitating his pitching arm after surgery, taking a couple of classes at a community college and working at a south Charlotte restaurant and wine shop.
Butler probably won’t be taking any sandwich orders again any time soon.
Butler, who just finished the 2014 season as a redshirt junior pitcher for the Charlotte 49ers, was selected by the San Diego Padres in the seventh round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft on June 6.
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A couple days later he was waiting to sign a contract and expected to be assigned to either Eugene, Ore., (short-season A, Northwest League) or Fort Wayne, Ind. (low-A, Midwest League).
After surgery in May 2013, Butler rose from damaged goods to major-league prospect in about 12 months.
By his own account, the right-handed Butler was an inconsistent high school pitcher when he graduated from Ardrey Kell High in 2010. He helped the Knights win a state championship in 2009 but he received only one college offer a year later.
Pitching at Marshall University in 2011, Butler appeared in seven games and had a 5.87 ERA in 15.1 innings.
Saying Marshall wasn’t the right fit, Butler transferred to Northwest Florida State College, a two-year school in the Florida Panhandle. In 2012, he pitched 24 innings over nine games but tore his ulnar collateral ligament almost halfway through the season and needed surgery to repair it.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Butler. “I wasn’t getting drafted and I wasn’t getting any college offers because of my injury.”
Butler’s answer was to return to Charlotte, enroll for a couple classes at Central Piedmont Community College and rehabilitate his repaired arm. He found work at Arthur’s Restaurants and Wine Shops, and with the Showcase Baseball Academy coaching a 14-under team.
By spring 2013, Butler’s velocity had not only returned but had also improved since before his surgery.
At Northwest Florida State, Butler’s fastball was in the low 90s. Last spring it reached the mid- to upper 90s.
Butler’s confidence also had returned, and he was interested in trying college ball again. Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs and pitching coach Brandon Hall watched Butler in a workout that May last year and offered him a spot on the team.
Observing the same workout was a New York Yankees scout. A week later, Butler was in Tampa, Fla., working out privately for the Yankees.
Two weeks after that, the team drafted him in the 16th round.
“I was in shock when I got that call (from the Yankees),” said Butler. “I had just gotten back on the mound a month prior to that.
“It took me about three-and-a-half weeks to decide what I wanted to do. I told myself, if I had the same thought for three straight days, to go with your gut. I wanted to work a little more and get a little closer to my degree, so I decided to go to Charlotte.”
Butler had a solid season as a 49er this year. He started 13 games, completing two, and finished the season with a 3.47 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 83 innings.
But what impressed scouts was Butler’s velocity (99-100 mph) and his size (6-foot-6, 205 pounds).
Butler estimates every Major League team contacted him this season. He had private workouts for the Padres, Miami Marlins and Texas Rangers.
Entering the draft, Butler heard projections he was likely to be selected between the third and sixth rounds. On June 6, Butler and 20-plus family members and friends were hanging out at the pool of his mother’s south Charlotte apartment complex when he found out he was drafted.
“This is a fantastic day for Ryan and for Charlotte 49ers baseball,” said Hibbs. “Ryan has worked extremely hard since he arrived on campus last August and has developed into an outstanding prospect. Seeing Ryan mature and get rewarded for his efforts is a win for our program and a win for him.”
Hudgens also drafted
Fellow 49er right-handed pitcher senior Brock Hudgens was picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 31st round of the draft. He led Charlotte with 14 starts this season, posting a 3.61 ERA and striking out 69 batters in 77.1 innings.
Hudgens had his best season in 2013, when he won seven of eight decisions and had a 2.77 ERA. He is a native of Jamestown.