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01/21/09 1:08 PM EST

Trimmer, stronger Butler's role unsure

First baseman used workout program to shed body fat in offseason

KANSAS CITY -- Just where Billy Butler fits into the Royals' scheme of things isn't clear just yet.

What is clear, however, is that he'll fit into his uniform a lot better when Spring Training starts next month. He's a trimmer and firmer looking Butler.

Butler showed off his improved physique at Royals FanFest last weekend and then headed to Liberty Hill, Texas, for manager Trey Hillman's sleepover and infielders-only camp in his backyard.

Both Hillman and athletic trainer Nick Swartz were impressed by Butler's form this week.

Butler is not tossing weight-loss figures around.

"I don't really know how much I've lost, but I've lost a lot of body fat and this is the best shape I've ever felt," Butler said. "This is the first offseason I could really concentrate on it. I didn't play winter ball or instructional league like I've done every year so I got to go home and get a completely really good workout program going."

When pressed, he allowed that he'd dropped maybe 10 pounds or so from the 250 he reached last season. He doesn't consider the numbers all that important.

"It's all about body fat. I don't care about the poundage," he said. "I'm young and I'm figuring it out. The less body fat you have the lighter it makes you feel. That's all there is to it. You give yourself a better chance to play for a longer time and just be a better all-around athlete."

In short, there'll be more firm muscles and less fat on his 22-year-old frame.

He's so intent on his program that he'll arrive at Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 1, 16 days before the required reporting date for Spring Training.

Butler, the Royals' primary designated hitter the last two seasons, is in that throng of first basemen/DH types that Hillman will be sorting through at camp. He's in there with Mike Jacobs, Ross Gload, Ryan Shealy, Mark Teahen and Kila Ka'aihue.

Where does he fit?

"People higher up make those decisions," he said.

"Ultimately I'm going to go out there and, if I'm in the lineup, I'll do what I'm capable of doing and, if not, I'm going to work hard to get in there the next day."

Butler got a wake-up call last May 29 when he was shipped off to Triple-A Omaha because of lackluster production. He came back a month later and things kicked in. After the All-Star break, he batted .305 and led the Royals in both home runs (nine) and RBIs (36) in that span.

He wound up with 11 home runs for the year and he figures his stronger body will boost that figure considerably in 2009.

"I worked out really hard this offseason," he said. "My goal was those balls that hit off the wall are going to go out now."

Butler was the picture of a very happy, gregarious and content young man as he met with Royals fans last weekend. Perhaps that reflects the effect of fatherhood. Wife Katie presented him with a daughter on Dec. 10 at Idaho Falls.

The child was named Kenley Jean in honor of Katie's grandparents. That meant a lot to 87-year-old Ken Dearden.

"He used to just lie on the couch and didn't move very much because he had emphysema and had trouble breathing," Butler said. "The day she was born, he was up and in the hospital and holding her. He just thought it was the coolest thing that she was named after him. Two weeks later he passed away. It just seemed like he was holding out for her and it was the happiest I've seen him in years."

Butler smiled at the bittersweet memory.

"He was a World War II vet, just an all-around American, a model citizen. That was the anchor of their family. I couldn't pick a better guy for my daughter to be like," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.