FORT MYERS, Fla. — His resume reads like someone who has overcome the odds, overachieved, exceeded expectations.

But don’t use the U-word with Dan Butler.

“I never really felt like the underdog,” Butler said before a Boston Red Sox spring training game last week. “Everybody has to prove themselves every day. Doesn’t matter where they came from.”

And Butler, 25, keeps proving himself, arriving from nowhere to the threshold of his fourth professional baseball season, including an invitation to major league spring training camp.

Butler is still with the major leaguers. Once the final cuts have been made, he is expected to joined the Portland Sea Dogs as their No. 1 catcher in time for their opener Thursday in Reading, Pa.

And if Butler stays to form, he will grind his way through the Double-A season and force the Red Sox to keep promoting him.

But, if you look at where Butler came from well, he shouldn’t have made it this far.

Butler could have been content for getting through the University of Arizona, after being overwhelmed his freshman year, both athletically and academically.

“I never really studied in high school. That caught up to me college,” said Butler, whose scholarship was revoked after his freshman year.

On the baseball field, Butler arrived as a good hitter, and little else.

“I didn’t really know the basics of baseball,” he said. “And I was out of shape. Everyone was bigger and stronger than I was. I was a fat kid. I was shorter than I am now (5-foot-10 and 225 pounds).”

Butler’s options were to improve or give up. Actually, that’s not true. Giving up is never a choice for him.

“You earn everything and you should have to,” Butler said. “That’s how my parents raised me. My dad once put a saying on my door that read: ‘When you’re not practicing, someone else is. And when you meet them, they will win.’

“I’ve always run with that.”

Butler hit the books, eventually getting his grade-point average to 3.4.

Off the field, Butler worked out and completely overhauled his diet.

“No more frozen burritos,” he said.

He got down to 180 pounds, and is now a muscular 190.

But while Butler was in better shape, he could not break into the starting lineup. When he finished at Arizona, that should have been it. Maybe Butler could be a coach or something.

But no, Butler thought he could still earn playing time. That summer, in 2009, he got a temporary assignment in the Cape Cod League for the Yarmouth-Denis team. He could play until the “real catchers” arrived after the College World Series.

Butler did have to leave that team, but impressed enough to earn a spot on another team in Brewster. There, the Red Sox saw Butler, a solid defensive catcher with some life in his bat.

Boston signed him and sent him to the rookie Lowell team. He batted .179 in 22 games.

But in 2010, Butler broke through with a combined .310 average and seven home runs for Class A Greenville and advanced Class A Salem.

Those number quieted to .247, but with 11 home runs in Salem last season. He was promoted to Portland late and hit .212 in 21 games. Throughout, he was a solid catcher.

“He’s got a pretty broad set of skills,” Boston director of player development Ben Crockett said. “As a defender, he catches and receives very well. He has a strong throwing arm and a quick release.

“I think that one of the big positives with him is his demeanor and his focus on the pitcher-catcher relationship, working together as a unit to get the pitcher through anything. That comes out when you meet him.

“Offensively, he’s got a little bit of pull power. He controls the strike zone pretty well and, from what I’ve seen in big league camp, it looks like he’s made some subtle adjustments to his swing that hopefully will lead to even more consistency.”

Butler batted .267 in 14 major league spring training games, with one home run.

“Just enjoying it and taking it all in,” Butler said of his first major league camp.

He is not going to stick with the big league team this year. But Butler will keep working toward goal, no matter that he’s already progressed farther than expected.

“I’m trying to earn a career,” he said. “I’m not this underdog that I’ve been portrayed as. I’m just like anybody else. Trying to earn a spot on the major league level — hopefully, one day, make a career out of it and stay up there.”

 

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

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Twitter: ClearTheBases