It's enough to grab your attention from any distance. This oddity of a protruding right index finger tucked in tightly, with the other three fingers cupped openly around the ball is hard to fathom. The strange grip solicits strange looks, often followed by a pile of queries.
How did you learn the pitch, Ty Buttrey
gets asked? What does it do? Is it hard on the elbow and shoulder?
The knucklecurve isn't thrown by many high school pitchers. It's a beast sometimes hard to tame, but Buttrey has made it an important part of his arsenal. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior righthanded pitcher from Providence (Charlotte, N.C.)
is a burgeoning talent that could go high in next month's Major League Baseball amateur draft.
Entering this week, Buttrey was 8-1 with 96 strikeouts in 60 innings and a 0.80 ERA for the 23-3 Panthers. He throws consistently in the low- to mid-90s, and along with his size, smooth delivery and work ethic, he possesses something unique—the knucklecurve.
"I learned it last year from a kid on my summer team," said Buttrey, an Arkansas commit who carries a 3.5 GPA and scored a 23 on the ACT. "I tried it one time, and automatically, I loved it."
Buttrey has taken a gradual ride to the top of the pitching prospect list since his sophomore year. He's grown five inches since entering high school and added about 30 pounds. He's seen his velocity increase two years ago from 82-86 mph, to touching the high-80s last year, to touching 96 this spring.
He committed to the Arkansas Razorbacks a year ago.
"They saw something in me a lot of other schools didn't," Buttrey said. "I would definitely say that there have been some challenges in the recruiting process. A lot of schools didn't know how to project me. It's why I looked at Arkansas, becaue they did see something in me. I'll be honest, there was some frustration. But I had to be patient and know there is no substitute for hard work."
Panther coach Dan Hignight saw immediately Buttrey could have the makings of something special his sophomore year. Hignight gave Buttrey a handful of varsity starts and noticed Buttrey's loose arm stroke. His velocity wasn't the greatest at the time, but Hignight had a good idea that would come.
"I remember talking to a number of SEC and ACC schools that Ty's velocity would come, and the summer entering his senior year, it did pick up," Hignight said. "Ty was consistently hitting 91, 93 and now even occasionally you'll see a 96.
"He made the comment to me recently after a game that he didn't have the best outing, but we still won, his one goal is to win the state championship. The kid is a winner. I think, ceiling wise, Ty is the best pitcher I've ever had. He has a legitimate chance to pitch in the big leagues."
Buttrey's future could take another upward arc between June 4-6, the days of the draft. His family has hired an adviser, and Ty is hearing he should go somewhere in the first two rounds.
"It's probably going to take a big offer for me to leave Arkansas. We'll come up with a number that teams will have to meet," Buttrey said. "This whole process is kind of dragged out and I'm looking forward to it being over with."
For now, he is focused on bringing a state title to the Charlotte school.
"The last time Providence won a [4A-large school] state championship was in 1995—and it's something I know," Buttrey said. "It's a big deal for me to win the state championship before I graduate. That's my No. 1 goal, which would be a great thing for my teammates, the school, the coaching staff, to all my guys. That's my priority."