I’ve been impressed with Christian Bethancourt this year, watching him play when the Mississippi Braves come to Birmingham (where I live) to play the Barons, and just watching his power stats slowly blossom. Early on, scouts saw in Bethancourt one of the best sets of defensive skills, and one of the best arms among all prospects. Defensively, Bethancourt is as good or better than most MLB catchers playing today. Offensively, scouts have wanted to see more power from his bat, and he has begun showing that very power they believed he had. A look at his splits for the 2013 season show his increase in power.
Bethancourt’s 2013 Splits
The last 28 days, Bethancourt’s number fell of a touch to reduce his overall BA/OBP/SLG/OPS, but in every category Christian’s numbers have gone up since last year. He’s scored 12 more runs than last year, (granted, with 90 more at-bats), 34 more hits, four times the amount of doubles he hit last year, six times the homers he hit last year, double the number of RBIs, and a line this year of .277/.305/.436/.741 compared to a line of .243/.275/.291/.566 in 2012. That’s a significant increase, and while Christian has struck out more this year, that’s to be expected when hitting more for power.
|Last 7 days||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||.000||.250||.000||.250|
|Last 28 days||53||4||10||2||0||1||4||1||8||.189||.218||.283||.501|
|Last 90 days||209||30||63||14||0||10||30||14||25||.301||.341||.512||.853|
|vs RHP as RHB||267||71||19||0||7||45||8||51||.266||.286||.416||.702|
|vs LHP as RHB||91||28||2||0||5||14||8||6||.308||.360||.495||.855|
|2 outs, RISP||64||18||3||0||0||14||1||8||.281||.303||.328||.631|
Bethancourt’s 2012 Splits (Abbreviated)
|vs RHP as RHB||214||51||3||0||1||21||7||36||.238||.265||.266||.532|
|vs LHP as RHB||54||14||2||1||1||8||4||9||.259||.310||.389||.699|
Scouts have certainly kept their eye on Christian Bethancourt, waiting to see the power they felt he had when drafted, and because of his stat increases in very specific areas, Bethancourt recently got the nod for September callups by the Atlanta Braves. I expressed my personal opinion in another post that I believe Christian Bethancourt has the necessary tools for heavy contention as the Atlanta Braves’ every day catcher next year. He clearly has a better set of defensive skills than even Brian McCann, and while he is only this year beginning to develop his offensive skill set, the sample we have is adequate I believe. I realize he is young, but is also athletic, built for catching, and has caught so much that his abilities to handle pitchers is not really a concern for me.
Priming Bethancourt For 2014?
I’ve made the case for Bethancourt before, so I won’t bore you further with that. I’m curious about the reason the Atlanta Braves decided to call Bethancourt up, and I have a few theories about that. Atlanta has clearly been impressed with his offense this year, and want to get a jump on looking at Bethancourt a touch earlier than the Spring of 2014. Christian may not get much playing time in September, but the Braves will likely catch him a few games to give McCann and Gerald Laird (Brian mostly) some extra rest as Atlanta nears playoff time. They will want to see some of the same offensive skills he has shown at Mississippi this year, and also confirm that on the big league level he can still perform defensively with the same prowess.
I think the Braves will seriously consider Bethancourt for the position of every day catcher next year, and possibly in a platoon situation with Gattis, Laird, or even Brian McCann. The Atlanta Braves frankly have too much depth at catcher. In the past, the Braves have mostly used Brian McCann for the majority of the season, giving him rest as needed with one backup catcher. I think the Braves want to get back to that kind of system, and if so then the question is simply who will be the main catcher, and who the backup? If, as we have opined before, McCann is gone in 2014, then could we see Bethancourt as the main catcher, and Laird or Gattis as a backup?
Some believe it will be Gattis as the main, and Bethancourt as the backup,with Laird released. Others believe Laird will be the main while his brief contract is still in place, with Bethancourt the backup, and Gattis sent back to Gwinnett to get more seasoning for the future. How this will end up is all conjecture at this point, but I will continue to argue that Gattis is simply not catcher material, and needs more defensive development. We could see Gattis play winter ball, and get some more seasoning in Gwinnett for preparation to return as a catcher or outfielder in 2015. The problem of having four “catchers” in the system is a good one, but it makes for difficulty trying to figure out what the Braves might do.
In a perfect world, with B.J. Upton‘s struggles offensively, I’d love to see Evan Gattis in left field, Justin Upton in right field (his more natural position), and Jason Heyward in center field. The problem with that is the HUGE and regretful contract of B.J. Upton. When a team is paying that much money to a player, he’s going to play, and certainly the Braves haven’t given up on a turnaround for B.J. Upton next year. Because Justin and Jason are also going to play, that leaves Gattis looking for an every day spot in the lineup. Gattis’ bat is so dangerous, and so potentially powerful, that the Braves will always have to consider getting him in the lineup somehow. While I would agree with that, I think Bethancourt also has amazing potential offensively, and his defensive skill set alone make him a front runner for an every day position in my mind.
In the end, we could see Laird released, and a Gattis/Bethancourt equal platoon. Some argue that Laird brings great experience to the catcher position, and while that’s true, I think Bethancourt will have little issue there. He is a natural catcher, has been doing it a long time, and while the skill level between AA and the big show are entirely different, a catcher’s main skill set tends to translate fairly well on higher levels. Bethancourt wouldn’t be the first successful rookie catcher in the majors, and not the first to be an every day catcher from day 1 in the bigs. However all this mess ends up remains to be seen, and certainly Bethancourt will need to prove on the big level what he’s proven in AA. Outside of the obvious puzzle that will have to be sorted out, I’m hoping to see Bethancourt catching a lot for Atlanta next year.