The Tomahawk Take Top 20 Atlanta Braves Prospects: 6-10
Braves catcherChristian Bethancourt
(25) blocks a pitch in the dirt against the Washington Nationals. The Braves defeated the Nationals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
#7: C Christian Bethancourt
You might ask why he’s still on this list, and that’s a reasonable question. CBeth has 32 games (31 plus one AB) now, having spelled the Braves while Evan Gattis was hurt in August/September of 2014, so he’s still technically a prospect.
That will change in 2015 for this native of Panama.
Bethancourt inherits the reins of a pretty nice pitching rotation, and he’s certainly paid his dues to get this far: despite still being only 23-1/2 years old (6’2″/205), he has been in the organization since being signed as an international free agent in 2009. It takes a while to get here when you sign as a 16- or 17-year-old, but that’s how far away these Caribbean kids are being projected.
Bethancourt has long been known for defense, particularly a quick-releasing strong arm. In AA ball during 2012-13, 32 runners attempted steals. Only 19 were successful. Even in the majors, he did well here: 5 runners cut down against 10 successes, a 33% kill rate.
The only knock I can point to is that CBeth tends to be a bit “lazy” in securing pitches, which results in advancing runners. In those 31 major league contests during 2014, he yielded 6 passed balls. He does tend to block significantly better than that: 9 wild pitches. By contrast, Gattis gave up just 5 PB’s in his 93 games of 2014… though a very-high 50 WPs.
For comparison purposes, both catchers need to look to the standard-bearer: Yadier Molina. In 107 games last year, just 3 passed balls and 22 wild pitches. Those numbers have never been above 8 and 46 in his career.
Bethancourt has traditionally struggled at the plate, but with a change in approach in 2013, suddenly “got it” as a hitter. His average jumped from .243 to .277 and hit 12 homers after never exceeding 5 in any season prior. In AAA during 2014, he hit .283 with 8 jacks, so the change seems to stick with him. He had less success (.248) during his first month in Atlanta, but that’s hardly unexpected.
Bethancourt is also pretty nimble and will steal a few bases for you – not stumbling about like Brian McCann would, but in this case, CBeth actually looks like an actual athlete.
Projection: should be the primary catcher for 4-5 years, then a useful backup for any team thereafter. He’s still young, though there is already a lot of mileage on his knees, so it’s hard to figure that he’ll be able to continue as a full-time backstop into his 30’s.
ETA to majors: Right now. He is the starting catcher for the Atlanta Braves.