I wrote this last February when Daric Barton was considered the better prospect. He'd also been basking in BIlly Beane Brilliance for a year. I think I was spot-on as we prepare for the 2007 fantasy baseball season. Butler had played at a great hitters park, and I hadn't accounted for that, but I don't think that has proven material.
Drafted as a third baseman, Butler lacked the athleticism and footwork for the position. After he made 18 errors in 41 games at the hot corner last year, he moved to left field, where the hope is that he can become adequate. He has yet to find a comfort level with reads and routes on fly balls
His inability to remain a catcher was due more to lack of effort than lack of ability. He's a below-average runner, and his conditioning could improve... would need substantial time in the minors if he returned to catching. He'll begin the year playing first base...Oakland almost certainly will have to make a decision as to how to get his bat permanently in the lineup by Opening Day 2007.
In The Baseball Prospect Book 2006, John Sickels says of Butler:
The question here is defense...a good arm but still learning the nuances of outfield play...lack of speed severely handicaps his range...
He's better off at first base...but most scouts think he'll be nothing more than barely average defensively...probably doesn't run well enough to play in the outfield...
I am fully confident that both players have achieved parity defensively. This leaves only the hitting portion of the comparison from which to draw a conclusion.
Daric Barton is 9 months older than Billy Butler. This accounts for the extra year of professional experience. However, this did not affect the level at which both ended the 2005 season - AA in the Texas League.
Point: Butler - the younger player at the same level.
With the extra year, Barton has amassed 25% or so more plate appearances than Butler. Barton has 69 doubles, 3 triples and 30 homeruns for a total of 102 extra-base hits. Butler has 61 doubles, 5 triples and 40 homeruns for a total of 106 extra-base hits - in 350 or so fewer plate appearances!
Just comparing 2005 where Barton had 60 more plate appearances, he was out-powered 13 HR to 30 HR and 87 RBI to 110 RBI. More importantly, Barton's 13 HR matched his previous season's total but he did it in 200+ more plate appearances. Butler also received more 200+ more PAs, but he hit 30 HRs vs the prior season's 10.
Point: Butler - more power at the same levels with positive pro-rated improvement.
Barton has twice as many bases-on-balls than Butler even accounting for the extra season of professional play - 203 to 106.
Point: Barton - better plate discipline.
I think the case is rock solid based on defensive parity and offensive ability that Butler is the better prospect. This does not account for either player's organization.
On this level, the A's look for players with Barton's skill set - OBP. He is behind Dan Johnson right now, and the A's signed Frank Thomas for a song. Grabbing DH-types with good on-base skills is not difficult. Think Erubiel Durazo.
The Royals have nothing like Butler in the minors (although Alex Gordon is projected to be that plus some defense), and nothing in the majors to prevent him from playing in the OF with a poor defensive skill set, at least for a season or two. Plus, he may hit like Frank Thomas.
Point: Butler - that power is not commonly available.
The only reason Barton remains the more highly-regarded prospect is his particular skill - OBP - is the current hot statistical measure, and he is a member of the organization that is currently lauded as the best and brightest. This combination overpowers all baseball discussion and analysis.
BA has Barton rated higher than Butler but not by much (#28 vs #29). John S. has a greater disparity (18th hitter vs 29th one).
I expect this to be the last time Barton will be considered better than Butler and the closeness of BA ranking leads me to believe this is already occurring.