GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Jordan Butler was drafted in the 34th round by the New York Yankees last summer. As tempting as that could be for a young player, he felt his best move was heading to college and continuing to develop.
Especially considering he doesn’t know whether his future is as a hitter or a pitcher.
“I think it was an easy choice for me. I don’t think I was ready for pro ball yet,” Butler said. “I think I wanted to come here and play for the No. 1 team in the nation and face SEC hitters, which will ultimately get me to be ready for pro ball.”
Butler has been used mostly as a pitcher in his first season with the No. 1-ranked Gators, and he’s quickly emerged as a vital bullpen piece for coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
The young left-hander from Tampa has not allowed a run in his last six outings, spanning 10 1/3 innings pitched, and he hasn’t allowed any runs out of the bullpen all season (14 1/3 innings).
Overall, he’s 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks over 31 innings (including four starts).
“I really like Jordan a lot. I think he’s going to be a special two-way player for us,” O’Sullivan said. “He hasn’t had a chance to hit as much as we would like, but you’ve seen me put him into some really tough situations. I brought him in with the bases loaded against Vandy and he pitched well there. … He’s a competitor. He played on the USA national team, the 18-U team two years in a row. He’s just a really good player.”
No. 1 Florida (29-6, 9-3 SEC) vs. Missouri (24-9, 6-6)
Where | McKethan Stadium, Gainesville
Friday, 6:30 p.m. | Florida RHP Brady Singer (7-1, 3.00 ERA) vs. Missouri LHP T.J. Sikkema (2-2, 2.90)
Saturday, 4 p.m. | Florida RHP Jackson Kowar (5-1, 2.72) vs. Missouri LHP Michael Plassmeyer (4-0, 1.99)
Saturday, 45 minutes after Game 2 | Florida RHP Tyler Dyson (4-2, 3.48) vs. Missouri RHP Bryce Montes De Oca (4-2, 2.64)
TV/Online | All games are available on SEC Network+ and can be streamed via WatchESPN
In the finale of Florida’s three-game sweep of Vanderbilt earlier this month, Butler took over in the top of the fifth inning with the bases loaded and one out. He followed with a strikeout and groundout to end the frame unscathed.
As for his offense, O’Sullivan sounded high on Butler as a hitter in the preseason, and he’s been effective in a small sample size, batting .400 with 2 RBIs in 10 at-bats.
“I enjoyed hitting in high school and I think I’m pretty good at it. And I love pitching, too, so I just try to stay with doing both as long as I possibly can because I know one day I’ll eventually have to say goodbye to one of them,” Butler said.
He hasn’t yet decided which path he’ll pursue at the professional level when the time comes, and O’Sullivan isn’t sure of the right answer, either. He does want to get Butler more at-bats when possible.
“It’s still early to predict that, but I think that’s one of the benefits of going to college — gives you a couple more years to swing the bat and figure some things out,” O’Sullivan said.
The Florida coaching staff has put a premium on finding two-way talents such as Butler, as it can essentially be like recruiting two players in one, which is a real value given the tight scholarship limits in college baseball.
Sophomore Austin Langworthy and senior Nick Horvath are other examples on the roster.
But for the moment at least, Butler has settled in on the mound while building more confidence with each appearance.
“I can’t take anything [for granted] because playing in the SEC is pretty tough, so I just keep going game by game,” he said.