March 5, 2012; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt (68) in the game against the Houston Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Prospect Bethancourt: Future Brave?

Recently, I heard a friend say, “It’s hard to root for Christian Bethancourt.  I get it.  The young catcher, a top prospect in the Atlanta organization playing for AA Mississippi, has showed good prowess at the plate with the glove, but has struggled at the plate with the bat.  Bethancourt has a good arm, and it was his defensive ability that helped get him chosen to play in this year’s Future Game.  It’s his second time to be chosen, and while he started last year’s game, he was unable to start Sunday’s game.

The young 21 year old catcher was slapped hard on the wrist off a foul ball while catching Thursday evening, sat out the game on Friday, but he indicated he felt good enough to play in Sunday’s Futures Game.  While he didn’t start, he did enter the game in the 6th inning and caught for the World Team, who lost 4-2 to the U.S. Team.  Bethancourt’s struggles with the bat continue though, as he went 0 for 1 in the game.  Bethancourt is flying out to Jacksonville today sometime to play in the Southern League All-Star game on Tuesday.  When asked about getting to play with the sore wrist, Christian was short and to the point…

It feels great so I got to play today.

Many hoped the young catcher might be able to step up and take over as a backup catcher for Atlanta while Brian McCann was still out early in the season, but the offensive production for Bethancourt has just not been what the Braves had hoped, and instead Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis became a platooning set for the big club.

Bethancourt has been in the minors five years now, playing for Rome and Lynchburg in 2011, then moving to Double-AA Mississippi where he has played the last two seasons.  He had much lower than expected production last year hitting on a line of just .243/.275/.291/.566, numbers not near good enough to move up to Gwinnett.  He works hard though, and has improved his production this year.  So far, in 55 games and 210 ABs, Bethancourt has hit on a line of .262/.292/.400/.692.  That’s not a huge improvement, but an improvement.

The Braves still hope the young catching prospect will continue to improve, and sooner rather than later.  There is a big question mark over Brian McCann and whether he will be with Atlanta next year, and with an aging backup catcher in Gerald Laird, and a rookie catcher in Evan Gattis, it is still hoped that Bethancourt will develop into the kind of player whose offensive skills match his defensive skills.  Only time will tell.

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  • fireboss

    As you are well aware, three years in the minors is not a long time especially for a catcher who spends more time learning to call a game than anything else. Bethancourt is just 21 in spite of the fact that we’ve been told about him since he was drafted and all of the Arizona vacation errrr Fall league hype. He doesn’t have to make it this year or next year come to that. He can catch like a Molina (pick one) and throw better. If we let him grow the bat will be there enough to play regularly.

    This will he make hype is a product of major league teams rushing players up to save money. Non-catchers have it easier than those who don the tools – having donned them myself too often for my liking. There is so much to learn and as they move up the game speeds up more and more depends on the catchers knowledge. If your bat is special a team may decide to accept errors behind the dish but pitchers want you to know and understand the opposition and if you hit that’s okay. We’ve been spoiled by McCann. Bethancourt will be fine if allow him to grow at his pace. Gattis will learn from laird and be fine Bethancourt will be there if we need him or he might be traded for what we need but it’s too soon for the ADD fanbase to write him off.

    • cheadrick

      Yeah I agree. Spend a touch more time learning to work with pitchers, call games, etc., and then come up, and with an arm like he has he’s a gem, whether he’s batting 250ish or not. If he were a touch more seasoned calling, he could come up now. I like what he has to offer as a “catcher”. The bat will improve too.

      • Julien Benjamin

        I’m glad for the power… already has matched his career high in HR, and he’s slugging .400 right now. Last year, he was slugging .266 at this time.

        The numbers are disappointing, but he doesn’t have to do much at the plate to be valuable; his defense is that good. He desperately needs to have that pop though, 7-10 HR a season at least to start.

        • cheadrick

          Yeah he is slowly improving with everything really. I don’t want them to rush him up obviously, and they don’t need to, but I’d like to see him at least by 2015.

    • carpengui

      I’m going to disagree a bit… first off, this is his fifth professional season (depending how you count the half-season of rookie ball in 2009), and catchers are really on a clock… a body clock that runs a lot faster than that of other position players. So, no, he doesn’t have a lot more time.

      The Braves have bought themselves a little more time – if they want to use it this way – with Evan Gattis. If (when) McCann departs (this December), a Gattis/Laird platoon can be sustained for all of 2014 while CB works in AAA. Laird’s contract expires after 2014, so 2015 could turn out to be a Gattis/Bethancourt tandem.

      • fireboss

        I actually make this his 6th year, 34 games is 34 games even in rookie ball and I agree that 2015 is his make or break year as a Brave. But Bethancourt isn’t your dad’s catcher – short, wide and slow. At 6’1″ 215 he’s tall, still slim and athletic. While the knees are always a concern for a backstop barring a Posey or McCann like injury he should have 10 years left in those legs.

        Something I found interesting in looking around is that while the Braves are widely held to be a draft pitching team, they’ve drafted 15 catchers since 2010. Three didn’t sign and one was sort of a courtesy draft on Troy Snitker who is now playing in indy ball (.353/.450/.588??) and hitting but still that’s a boatload of backstops. This doesn’t count Caratina who I think was drafted to play third base with catching as a fall back option. Only four show signs of hitting above 250 – DeLa Rosa, Desantiago, Murphy and Odom – but we are pretty deep in backstops and that makes Bethancourt a BIG trade chip if we need a BIG trade piece.

        • cheadrick

          As I said below, 2015 is when I expect to see him, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Gattis/Christian platoon, that is, if we don’t trade Christian. He does have some tools that most catcher’s don’t have.