Royals’ Butler fit and primed for big season

There’s going to be a lot written about the “new look” Billy Butler this spring, and about all the hard work that he put in during a rigorous weight-training program in the off-season.

But Butler hopes everyone will keep their expectations in check.

“It’s not like I’m going to be on the cover of any muscle fitness magazines,” Butler said by phone from Surprise, Ariz.

“I don’t think I’m going to be turning a lot of heads. I don’t know that I really look all that different. But I feel a lot better and I feel like I’m stronger and more agile. It’s all about how it helps on the baseball field and not about how I look.”

Butler, the Royals’ designated hitter, and his family moved from Idaho to Scottsdale, Ariz., during the off-season. He then began working out with Ryan Stoneberg, the club’s new strength-and-conditioning coach.

“We would start working out at about 7 in the morning and go until about 1 p.m.,” Butler said. “It was work, hard work.”

But Butler has noticed the results. His weight, which was at about 240 pounds last season, is roughly the same. But the weight is distributed better, he said.

“I’ve got bigger legs, for sure, and that’s very important in baseball,” he said. “My waistline is smaller and my upper body is wider. My clothes fit better and I feel better.”

And how is the “new look” translating on the baseball diamond?

“Well, it’s early, but I definitely know I’m stronger,” he said. “The ball is traveling further but then again, this is Arizona, and the ball always travels further.”

And how about Butler’s, ahem, speed?

“I’m actually about a step quicker I think,” he said, before pausing. “I know you have to put that into perspective. Speed is not exactly part of my game. But I do feel like I’m quicker by about a step. That’s going to help.”

Butler believes he’ll be able to add points to his average by beating out more balls hit to deep short — something he’ll have to be able to do if he is ever to contend for a batting title.

“There were so many times last year when I hit a ball hard and deep into the hole,” he said, “and I would get thrown out by a half a step. Hopefully, this year, I beat those throws and that will help the team.”

Butler also might even chalk up a few more doubles, the part of his game that’s already better than anyone else in baseball. No one has hit more doubles (140) in the last three years than Butler.

“You’ll probably see me more confident to go for two on balls that are cut off in the deep alley,” he said.

Royals fans, though, shouldn’t expect Butler’s extra step to cut down on his main nemesis – the double-play ball.

“You know, for me, all the speed in the world won’t help there,” he said. “Almost all of those balls were line shots or hard one-hoppers. There’s not much you can do. I don’t expect that to change. A lot of that is just luck.”

Butler’s commitment to becoming more agile and athletic also might send a message to Royals management that he remains serious about earning more playing time at first base. Last season, he didn’t take the news well that he would become more of a designated hitter than a first baseman.

“I understand how talented a guy Eric (Hosmer) is at first,” Butler said. “I get that. I’m not here to play manager. But whatever I can do to help out at first gives us more versatility. That helps out the team in the long run.”