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

Open Court For Bethancourt


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

It would be insane, but interesting if player lineups were based on a courtroom setting, with fans deciding the fate of any particular player.  I cringe to imagine that, while finding it fun at the same time.

If I were a judge and I had the case before me of whether to start Evan Gattis or Christian Bethancourt as an every day catcher in 2014, and all you visitors to Tomahawk Take were a jury of Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt’s peers, what verdict would you render if the season were to start tomorrow?

Bear in mind that this scenario is in no way intended to be a slight on Gerald Laird.  The veteran, at this point, is more likely to be the every day catcher than anyone, at least in my mind, but we did get some hint in Fredi Gonzalez‘ last interview on 680 The Fan, that the Braves might be leaning toward Gattis as their prime candidate.  At the very least, Fredi indicated they plan to give him more starts at catcher.

However it turns out, I argued the case for Bethancourt a while ago, and my mind has not changed.  Christian’s numbers haven’t been great in the Dominican Winter League, but Bethancourt should be looked at for more than simple numbers alone.   It’s an older article, but still relevant today… Jesse Sanchez pointed out in an article a a couple years ago on MLB.com, that Christian Bethancourt isn’t defined by numbers alone.  The same applies in 2013, and probably more so.

Bethancourt’s talent, especially his defensive abilities as a catcher, are a coach’s dream, but I’m also amazed at his maturity.  In Sanchez’ article, he quotes some of Bethancourt’s thoughts in 2011, and you can see a level of maturity in Christian that was rare then in a young player, and still so today….

Let me tell you something, when you sign a contract to become a professional baseball player, you are automatically a professional, but there are still a lot of things you have to learn to act like a professional. I’m learning that here. There are some Double-A guys, some Triple-A guys and some that have played in the Major Leagues. It’s been a great experience for a person like me who was at Class A.

I’m learning about the consistency of the game and what it takes to do it day to day.  Some days are up and some days are down, but I’m learning about the responsibility that comes with this job, the focus that it takes. Maybe these are not the things people notice in the stands, but they are really important.

Bethancourt sounds pretty wise beyond his years, and those quotes were from awhile back.  That wisdom, coupled together with his defensive abilities,  and raw, athletic talent, certainly recommend him in my mind to be given a good chance at starting as catcher in an Atlanta Braves’ uniform, sooner than later.

Despite some lower numbers in the DWL, let’s not forget the kind of numbers that Bethancourt put up this past season.  At Double-A Mississippi, Christian hit on a line of .277/.305/.436/.741, and also put up 12 homers (7 more than in any previous minor league season), while getting 99 hits including 21 doubles and 45 RBIs.  Scouts always wanted to see a touch more power out of Bethancourt, and he’s begun to do that very thing.

If Bethancourt gets an invite to spring, as he probably will given the Braves’ current needs at catcher, and puts up a good showing, could we see him skip Triple-A altogether and start soon after the 2014 season begins?  If you were in court having to make such a verdict, would you pick him or Evan Gattis?  Before you render your verdict, remember that with Gattis, no one really expected him to show so well and get the nod last spring either!  Additionally, Gattis has had less than a stellar showing as a catcher when he has been given the opportunity.  Sure, people are enamored with his power and his story, but is that enough?

If a jury of their peers came back mostly picking Gattis, I’m sorry – as judge in my mock court, I’d have to overrule that verdict and go with Bethancourt.  I’d rather have a superior defensive catcher any day, and one that has shown that while he may not have the same power as Gattis, is still growing and can produce.  Most teams hope for a catcher that can really do the job behind the plate.  Bethancourt fits that bill.

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  • Jesus

    Gattis’ defensive numbers look pretty decent (league avg anyway) I reckon he gets the start as Bethancourt goes to AAA to get a chance to backup his bat from last year.
    IMO, the issue with Gattis isn’t his glove either, it’s can he develop a better approach at the plate. The last few weeks of the regular season and in the division series he was being a lot more patient, if that continues, I don’t see how you can NOT give him the job. He could put up some serious offensive numbers if he learns to lay off those breaking pitches down and away.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      Yeah, it’s hard to argue with Gattis’ potential. I get that. I guess I wouldn’t mind seeing a Gattis/CB platoon, and just see who helps the team the most. As they say, good problem to have. I also have issues with people underrating the importance of good defensive abilities behind the plate. Saving runs are as important as producing them. That said, I’m not saying Gattis couldn’t end up a good catcher… he just needs more time behind the plate. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see CB traded at some point before he gets a chance to catch every day for the Braves.

      • Sealift67

        CB traded.. not sure..while team has control over his contract for
        some time and he could at worst case be a fine back-up.
        Overall it’s not a bad situation to be in when losing a guy
        with all-star history.

        • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

          Yeah, with Bmac gone, Laird in his twilight years, CB is a great backup if nothing else. If the Braves had another good catcher in the wings though, there could be substantial trade goods offered for CB with his defense.

          • Sealift67

            Not to belabor this yet in my experience outstanding
            defensive low offense catchers have been historically
            undervalued. That said, CB seems to showing
            a nice learning curve with his offense. I’d like to
            keep him, but I’m not the GM.

          • Sealift67

            Who was that guy who played behind Johnny Bench,
            ?Plummer. He was cool with those shades.

      • Jesus

        I could maybe see him in a trade for a top pitching prospect. But otherwise, Gattis ,IMO, is the more likley of the two to be traded, especially if he hits a lot of dingers next year. We could package him off to an AL team and get a pretty nice return.

  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    I cited an older article, but looked to find quotes that show Bethancourt’s maturity. The older article from 2011 does that, and you’d have to think that CB is even more mature two years later. Corrected some boo-boos. Thanks for pointing them out… you know who you are :)

  • fireboss

    In an interview with Andrew Vig yesterday http://outsidepitchmlb.com/2013/11/22/opsn-exclusive-interview-with-braves-general-manager-frank-wren/ Wren was asked if the starting job was between Gattis and CB.
    ” I think you said it well. We have two guys who were with us last year in Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird who, assuming Brian doesn’t return, will get the bulk of the playing time.. . .We love Bethancourt and how he continues to develop.. . .:”
    I read that as Laird/Gattis Bethancourt at Gwinnett

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      yeah i expect that… just don’t agree with it.

  • rick staley

    Gattis is a better glove right now than McCann was in any of his seasons as a catcher for the Braves. Tip your hat to Mac because he called a great game, but I have seen to many lazy attempts at balls in the dirt that are swiped at instead of moving one’s feet and butterflying to block an errant pitch…imho.

    Gattis will rip more HR’s in his first season as a regular catcher than Mac did in any season to date. Will he hit .275 and above regularly? It’s probably unlikely if last season is a true indication of his batting average. Just as long as he continues to work hard at his craft defensively, he will be fine until the young prospect (CB) is ready to compete while holding the lumber instead of the leather.

    • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

      “Better glove right now than McCann was in any of his seasons as a catcher”? You’re kidding, right? Not disrepect intended, but I’m sorry, Gattis was exceedingly prone to passed balls, and while his arm was arguably (to 2nd) a touch better than Brian’s, Bmac was very good at digging balls out of the dirt, and keeping balls from hitting the backstop. Gattis is nowhere near, currently, as good a Bmac in that regard. Bmac, with my eye test, also moved his feet better and was faster than Gattis behind the plate, which came with being a touch thinner, less muscled, and having more experience. It’s often all about the eye test with catchers, but Gattis is no catcher, and has no real ability yet to manage pitchers and games nearly as well as Bmac… those intangibles that Brian brought to the game, Gattis just doesn’t have currently. He may someday, but it’s difficult to compare the two just yet.

      • cothjrr24

        There’s nothing to suggest that Gattis doesn’t know how to manage pitchers. Gattis’ cERA was 3.03 last year and McCann’s was 2.99. They basically caught the same guys and had identical results. Laird’s was a run higher.
        DRS calculated Gattis as a +2 defender last year while McCann came in at -3.
        Yes, McCann was better at blocking pitches, but Gattis has a better arm (McCann was fluky good this year but his numbers state he’s less than 25% caught stealing rate, which is very poor) , and looks to have McCann’s ability to frame pitches. Your eye test is correct in one aspect, but the numbers suggest you’re wrong about Gattis’ ability to play catcher. Call it small sample size if you like but it’s the only true data we have about Gattis.
        There is no doubt that Gattis has to get better at blocking balls.

        • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

          That’s because you cannot quantify the management of pitchers very well. You are correct that there is nothing to suggest it, except for experience. Because of the lack of that experience with Gattis, the suggestion he cannot manage pitchers as well as McCann, with Bmac’s experience, is implied, and probably accurate at this point. cERA is not a very reliable indicator in my opinion, as many in the SABR community will admit, and those numbers would be based on Gattis arm being better to 2nd, which I will and have admitted. My only argument, essentially, was that Bmac is better at blocking pitches and managing pitchers, and that Gattis needs a good deal more development at that position before anyone can start comparing the two. Analyzing catchers is a times, difficult at best, but I don’t get anyone making claims that Gattis is at the level of Bmac at that position currently.

          See this article, which I essentially agree with about some problems with Gattis’ defense:

          http://www.talkingchop.com/2013/11/25/5143974/evan-gattis-will-replace-a-franchise-cornerstone-here-is-what-to

          • cothjrr24

            I’m aware of the article, yet the author doesn’t point out any real problems he saw, Here’s the only thing that was said:

            “The big things for Gattis will be to focus on framing, blocking pitches, and calling games”.
            The author doesn’t say that he was inadequate this last year at any of those skills.
            Also regarding cERA. I’ve seen the arguments for and against cERA, but I’ve also seen many SABR guys discuss when cERA is relevant; when 2 catchers essentially catch the same pitchers, hence the relevance in McCann and Gattis.

          • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

            Well you make some salient points, and I don’t wish to really be interpreted as having no hope in Gattis as a catcher. I find myself too hard on him at times, and perhaps that’s a natural reaction to what I think is often hype concerning him, as if he’s the Braves’ white knight, waiting in the wings to rescue the organization. I’m behind him, and will agree he can make a fine catcher. I just don’t think he’s quite there yet.

          • fireboss

            In an interview on XM today Kimbrel said the pitchers were all impressed with how hard Gattis was working to get up to speed on hitters, learning tendencies and asking about ways to improve his game. That suggests that he understand how far behind he is and is trying to catch up. I don’t expect him to be a gold glover but if Kinbrel is to be believed he’s doing what we have asked that he do. Laird is a good mentor and Eddie Perez is there too.
            On another note Rick Williams has known Gattis since he was eight. Small world

        • fireboss

          It is a small sample size and that I think is reflected in his cERA. My essential issue with Gattis is his inexperience. he only had 2 passed balls but 17 wild pitches were called when he was back there. The bullpen was responsible of 10 of those, Beachy and Maholm 2 each with Minor Medlen and Huddy throwing one each. Bullpen guys live in the dirt and experienced major league catchers anticipate the ball being there but Gattis simply sees an reacts. The same for guys like Hudson and Maholm who want you to beat the ball into the ground. He simply doesn’t expect the movement to be so late and so sharp, something a few years in the minors would have taught him. Maybe because of that he only caught Teheran and wood once. More experience pitchers are better able to overcome those mistakes than volatile guys like Teheran or raw talent like Wood.
          I’m not a fan of his pitch sequencing either and while I know the pitcher has the last say with some of our younger bullpen arms calling the right pitch is important because they usually throw what’s put down there.

          I’d have sent him to catch in winter ball but they sent Bethancourt instead which makes no sense to me.

          • cothjrr24

            There’s no doubt that Gattis is inexperienced as a professional catcher, but even being inexperienced last year made him an average defensive catcher that held his own right in the middle of 2 veteran catchers. I don’t think that Gattis will ever be a gold glover, but he framed pitches better than most last year and had a good arm, and whether it be luck or no, he called an equally effective game to that of McCann.
            If blocking pitches is his weakness, have him concentrate on that this offseason. The rest is arbitrary.

          • fireboss

            Which is why he should be catching in winter ball instead of Bethancourt who is already a superior defensive catcher.

            Managing pitch selection and sequencing for young pitcher isn’t or shouldn’t be arbitrary. The best catchers rarely get shaken off because they know the hitters, their tendencies and the best way for the pitcher involved to get the hitter out. You can tell who these guys are,when their pitchers are interviewed they say we don’t think about it, he puts it down we throw it. That comes from experience and studying the opposition. Gattis is learning on the job at the highest level. I agree that his arm is better than Mac and Laird’s. I know he’ll earn his playing with his bat. I know his framing numbers are right there with Mac and ahead of Laird. The rest he has to learn from Laird which is why Wren said Laird would do the bulk of the catching when he was interviewed last week. I suspect Gattis’ bat will dictate otherwise and Laird will end up catching Teheran and whoever the 5th starter his if that often.

  • PaulRevereRidesAgain

    Actually I’d like to see Saltalamacchia back with CB as his backup. But it will never happen. Gattis would be in LF, Heyward in RF and Upton in CF.

    Oh and I’d like to see Infante come back and play second.

    As long as I continue to dream bring Prado back to play 3rd.