Atlanta Braves 2012 Prospect Review: Christian Bethancourt

ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 30: Catcher Christian Bethancourt #25 of the Atlanta Braves swings while catcher Travis d'Arnaud #15 of the New York Mets looks on during the game at Turner Field on June 30, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JUNE 30: Catcher Christian Bethancourt #25 of the Atlanta Braves swings while catcher Travis d'Arnaud #15 of the New York Mets looks on during the game at Turner Field on June 30, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

We have crossed the halfway point in our review of the 2012 Atlanta Braves prospect review. Today, we look at catcher of the future, the 5th ranked prospect for the Braves, Christian Bethancourt. Check out the previous editions here:

The Catcher of the Future: Christian Bethancourt

The Atlanta Braves signed Christian Bethancourt as an international free agent back in 2008 at the age of 16. As is the case with most international free agents, Bethancourt was going to need a little longer to develop. Catchers also normally take a touch longer than other position players. The Braves were patient with the young backstop throughout his minor league journey. Here are each of his stops throughout the minors:

  • 2008 Rookie: 34 games, 131 plate appearances- .267/.328/.371 0 HR, 12 R, 17 RBI, 1 SB, .344 wOBA, & 104 wRC+
  • 2009 Rookie: 46 games, 187 plate appearances- .277/.342/.446 4 HR, 32 R, 27 RBI, 8 SB .367 wOBA, & 128 wRC+
  • 2010 A: 108 games, 420 plate appearances- .251/276/.331 3 HR, 31 R, 34 RBI, 11 SB, .276 wOBA, & 70 wRC+
  • 2011 A: 54 games, 235 plate appearances- .303/.323/.430 4 HR, 25 R, 33 RBI, 6 SB, .335 wOBA, & 103 wRC+
  • 2011 A+: 45 games, 175 plate appearances- .271/.277/.325 1 HR, 11 R, 20 RBI, 3 SB, .271 wOBA, & 67 wRC+
  • 2012 AA: 71 games, 289 plate appearances- .242/.274/.290 2 HR, 30 R, 26 RBI, 8 SB, .265 wOBA, & 55 wRC+
  • 2013 AA: 90 games, 388 plate appearances- .277/.305/.436 12 HR, 42 R, 45 RBI, 11 SB, .335 wOBA, & 112 wRC+
  • 2013 MLB: 1 plate appearance- 1 strikeout
  • 2014 AAA: 91 games, 365 plate appearances- .283/.308/.408 8 HR, 33 R, 48 RBI, 7 SB, .320 wOBA, & 94 wRC+
  • 2014 MLB: 31 games, 117 plate appearances- .248/.274/.274 0 HR, 7 R, 9 RBI, 1 SB, .247 wOBA, & 53 wRC+
  • 2015 AAA: 52 games, 218 plate appearances- .327/.359/.480 4 HR, 25 R, 31 RBI, 5 SB, .378 wOBA, & 140 wRC+
  • 2015 MLB: 48 games, 160 plate appearances- .200/.225/.290 2 HR, 16 R, 12 RBI, 1 SB, .254 wOBA, & 35 wRC+

The biggest skill in Christian Bethancourt’s game though was his defense. He was viewed as an elite defensive catching prospect with the ability to shut down the running game. Even with mixed results offensively, it was always believed he would turn into an elite defensive backstop. One that would make up for a below average bat, however, there was belief he would turn into an all-around catcher one day.

It’s why he was the Braves 8th ranked prospect in 2011, rose to 5th in 2012, and peaked up as the 2nd ranked prospect in 2013 & 2014. He was also a nationally recognized prospect, even being named the 7th most promising catching prospect prior to the 2012 season. The Braves gave him a single plate appearance in 2013 (a strikeout), a taste of the majors in 2014 (allowing him to replace injured player), but he was still a project at the time.

It was not until Spring Training 2015 when he was finally trusted with a shot to earn the primary catcher role. While he got the opportunity, he did not make the most of it. Through 29 games, he struggled to hit. Which was a concern they had around Bethancourt, but the Braves hoped his defense would make up for his play until the bat came around. By the time he was optioned back to Gwinnett on June 15th, he was third in the National League in passed balls. The skillset that was supposed to carry his value was simply not there.

Bethancourt would get another opportunity that August but was never really trusted with the primary catcher responsibility. That off-season, Bethancourt would need surgery for a torn meniscus, and because he was out of options, it would mark the end of his Braves tenure. As the organization would look to trade him.

Christian Bethancourt Becomes Well Traveled

On December 10th, 2015, the Atlanta Braves would trade Christian Bethancourt to the San Diego Padres for Ricardo Rodriguez and Casey Kelly. Finally giving up on the former top prospect.

Bethancourt earned the backup catching role with the Padres, serving behind Derek Norris. Through 73 games, 204 plate appearances, he would hit .228/.265/.368 6 HR, 20 R, 25 RBI, 1 SB, .289 wOBA, & 68 wRC+. His defense was reliable, and he served well in a backup role. However, something else happened for Bethancourt, the Padres let him pitch out of the bullpen for the first time in 2016. Two relief appearances would turn into a shot at a second chance of sorts for the former top prospect.

That is because Bethancourt would go back to his home country and play in the Panamanian Professional Baseball League as a two-way player. He performed well enough as a reliever that the Padres said he would be used as a reliever during the 2017 season. He would primarily work in the bullpen but also see responsibilities at catcher, outfielder, and occasionally pinch hit.

It did not go well.

In 3.2 innings as a reliever in the majors, Bethancourt allowed 6 hits, 8 walks, and 6 earned (9 total) runs. Even in AAA, he had an 8.21 ERA, 7.85 FIP, & 7.45 xFIP in 41.2 innings. The failed experiment put a halt to the “career renaissance.” It looked like it might be the last shot Bethancourt would get in the majors.

He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on a minor league deal in 2018. He played well enough to make the AAA All-Star game but would never get a shot in the major leagues. Instead, he would head back into free agency at the end of 2018.

This led to Bethancourt heading to the KBO. He signed with the NC Dinos for a one-year $1M. In 53 games, he would hit .246/.308/.404 8 HR, 23 R, 29 RBI, 1 SB, .327 wOBA, & 95 wRC+. His defense was fine behind the plate as well. However, he was waived on July 3rd, 2019.

His next stop was with the Philadelphia Phillies, signing a minor league deal on January 7th, 2020. The COVID pandemic would prevent any minor (or major) league appearances with the Phillies that year. However, he would rejoin the organization on another minor league deal for 2021 but would ultimately be released during Spring Training.

Next up, he would find himself in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, signing a minor league contract on May 1st, 2021. Once again, he would play well in AAA but could not reach the major leagues. Once again, he would find himself a free agent in search of another organization.

Then the Oakland Athletics gave him a call. On December 3rd, 2021, the Athletics would sign Christian Bethancourt to a minor league contract. This time, the career renaissance would actually take place. After only 5 AAA games, Bethancourt would be added to the Athletics roster as a COVID related substitute. He would play three innings at first base, marking his first appearance in the big leagues in 5 seasons. He took advantage of his opportunity.

Bethancourt hit .249/.298/.385 4 HR, 23 R, 19 RBI, 4 SB, .300 wOBA, & 100 wRC+ over 56 games, mostly as a first baseman. It may be nothing special, but he was finally getting an opportunity for a bad Athletics team. He was good enough to earn some attention in trades, and he would end up going to the Tampa Bay Rays on July 9th, 2022 for Christian Fernandez and Cal Stevenson. In 45 games in Tampa, he would hit .255/.265/.436 7 HR, 16 R, 15 RBI, 1 SB, .302 wOBA, & 101 wRC+. He was worth 1.2 fWAR in that short span with the Rays, 1.9 fWAR for the entire 2022 season.

At this moment, he remains on the Rays 40-man roster for the 2023 season.

Christian Bethancourt Never Gave Up

It once looked like Christian Bethancourt’s career was hanging on by a thread. Now, it looks like he is getting an opportunity to stick in the majors after all these years.

Maybe he never reached the heights that most prospect reviews thought he would back in the day, but he continues to try to make a career in the big leagues. Once thought of as a “can’t miss” prospect, Bethancourt will be looked as a bust amongst Braves fans.

However, that does not appear to be the story he is trying to tell for his career. After years of fighting to stick on a major league roster, Bethancourt is now trying to make the most of what might be his last shot in the show. I am personally rooting for him.

If there is an organization that can get the most out of Christian Bethancourt, the Tampa Bay Rays have as good a shot as any.

As we finish up on Bethancourt, we are approaching the home stretch. Up next, one of my favorite players to ever watch. The number 4 prospect from the Braves 2012 season, Andrelton Simmons.