On April 22nd, 2008, in one of the more forgotten trades in recent Brewers history, Milwaukee acquired minor league pitcher Josh Butler from the Tampa Bay Rays for backup outfielder Gabe Gross. The Brewers needed to clear a roster spot for another pitcher to come up, and with a wealth of left handed hitters on the bench, Gross was deemed expendable.
Gross was very good for Tampa in 2008 and 2009, putting up a solid 2.8 WAR in 671 plate appearances. However, he tanked in 2010 with Oakland, as his discipline and power deserted him. He only posted a .239/.290/.311 line as an Athletic, relegating him to below replacement level. Gross would have been useful in 2009 and who knows how he would’ve been in Milwaukee in 2010, but given that outfield is a strength for the Brewers right now (Braun, Hart, Dickerson, and Gomez are all projected for 2.0+ WAR in 2011 and there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Cain is that good as well), Gross isn’t missed in the Brewers organization.
However, the return on investment has been minimal so far. Butler turns 26 this offseason, meaning he will soon turn from “prospect” (which he hardly qualified as anyway) to “minor league veteran” unless he can start putting up some numbers in the high minors and at least stake a claim at a ML roster spot. Last season, with time split between Huntsville and Nashville, Butler put up a 4.94 ERA and a 1.29 K/BB ratio, which just simply isn’t going to cut it.
The 6’5″ righty ended the season in Nashville and will likely begin his 2011 campaign there as well. He’s going to have to show a better ability to control the strike zone, as a pitcher who walks the world in AAA has almost no chance to survive in the major leagues. If things don’t turn around in 2011, chances are high that Butler’s Brewers career will end as a bust.