José Butto got shelled in his only MLB appearance last season.
To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. The Mets needed an emergency starter against the Phillies in late August 2022 with Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco still recovering from injuries, and Butto was the minor leaguer that fit the bill. The 24-year-old RHP from Cumana, Venezuela had spent the previous four seasons (2020 excluded) putting up good-not-great numbers as a starter in Brooklyn, Binghamton, and Syracuse, and the Mets didn’t have the luxury to see if he was ready for the show. And as Phillies slugger Alec Bohm demonstrated, he most certainly was not.
Bohm hit two separate three-run homers against Butto, one in the first inning and one in the fourth, as the Phillies knocked him around for seven runs before knocking him out the second time through the order. The Mets ended up winning that game 10-9 saving Butto from a loss, but not saving him from a one-way ticket upstate. And even though his debut was not ideal, he didn’t hang his head for long.
Butto pitched lights out once he returned to Triple-A Syracuse. His 2.45 ERA was the best on the team among pitchers with at least seven starts and more than a full point lower than his career 3.73 ERA in Double-A Binghamton. He gave up only ten runs in eight appearances, and while his 36 IP limited the well-documented struggles he has faced against batters the second and third time through the order, he finished the season as arguably the most capable starter in Syracuse. But will that be enough to give him another shot in the Majors?
To his credit, Butto is handling everything in his control so far. He struck out four batters in 1.2 innings against the Marlins in his first Spring Training start, showing a well-located mid-90s fastball and a curveball that embarrassed the top of Miami’s order. Some of his pitches were even recorded as cutters, as Butto debuted another weapon to mix in with his improved fastball, curveball, and already established changeup. He was pulled because of a high pitch count, but he showed an impactful two innings of work that should intrigue Mets fans if he comes up to pitch again this season.
But truthfully, if the Mets need Butto this season for more than an emergency start that means something will have gone terribly wrong. The starting rotation is quite aged and liable to miss plenty of time, but with major-league-ready starters in David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Joey Lucchesi waiting in the wings, a whole lot of arms need to fall off before the club considers Butto for a start. His best opportunity may come in middle relief, but even in the bullpen there’s a long list of pitchers vying for just a few open spots. No matter how much improvement Butto has shown in the last few months, the odds of him seeing playing time in Queens this year look close to zero.
Then again, those were also the odds heading into last season before he made his first and only appearance. If Butto can continue developing his pitches and show effectiveness the second and third time through a batting order, and if the Mets really really really need a starting pitcher at some point this season, he could find himself there again. That’s a lot of ifs, but luckily for Butto the season is long.