Bethancourt’s offense has slipped, but his prospect status hasn’t

KANSAS CITY — It said plenty about Christian Bethancourt’s defensive prowess when the Braves catching prospect was selected to play in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game despite his puny .558 on-base-plus-slugging percentage this season at Double-A Mississippi.

It didn’t take long for the 20-year-old Panamanian to show off his howitzer of an arm to a national TV audience and big crowd at Kauffman Stadium. Bethancourt threw out Astros infield prospect Jonathan Singleton on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play to end the second inning of the U.S. team’s 17-5 win over Bethancourt’s World team.

Bethancourt, who played 5-1/2 innings and went 0-for-3, was the only Braves prospect selected to play in the annual Futures Game. He missed much of May with a pulled hamstring, which set back one of the Appalachian League’s youngest players just when he was starting to get into an offensive groove in his first month above Class A.

“That was one of the things that made it more frustrating, because I was trying to do a better job hitting,” said the rangy catcher, who has a .254 average with no homers, 16 RBIs, six stolen bases and a .278 on-base percentage in 52 games for Mississippi. “It was a struggle earlier in the season. I kept working on some things, like my balance and my approach.”

A year ago, he hit .289 with five homers and 53 RBIs in 99 games for Class-A affiliates Rome and Lynchburg, then raised his stock further by hitting .306 with five homers in 72 at-bats in the prospect-filled Arizona Fall League. All the while, he shut down opposing teams’ running games and displayed steady improvement in calling a game.

His throwing arm and quick release had scouts double-checking their stopwatches last year in the Fall League, and left Braves players shaking their heads in admiration during spring training. Bethancourt was a non-roster spring invitee.

“He’s going to be really, really good,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said, describing his package of defensive skills thusly: “Sheesh. It’s as good as it comes. He’d have probably the best arm in all of baseball right now – you might even be able to say at any position. To have that behind the plate is a big asset.”

The Braves will presumably pick up a $12 million option on McCann’s contract in 2013. They haven’t commented on the likelihood of signing the six-time All-Star to an extension before free agency; he’ll be 29 in February.

Bethancourt’s hitting this year is a reminder he still needs plenty of development. But few imagined that shortstop Andrelton Simmons’ hitting would improve so rapidly from two years ago, when he had a .695 OPS and two homers in rookie ball.

Braves backup David Ross, a strong defensive catcher, said of Bethancourt: “Plain and simple, he’s a stud. His tools are off the chart, and his personality makes for a guy that wants to learn how to call a game, figure out hitters…. He’s got way better [defensive] skills than I’ve got. We’re not in the same league. He’s got one of the best arms I’ve ever seen — maybe the best.”

Bethancourt hit just .268 with a .288 OBP in April, but was 10-for-26 in his last seven games before getting hurt at the end of the month. After spending three weeks on the disabled list, he had four two-hit games in his first five full games back from the DL. But he hasn’t been consistent since.

His early frustration wasn’t tempered by being younger than most Double-A players, something well-intentioned teammates reminded him of.

“You feel good when you’re one of the youngest guys in the league,” Bethancourt said. “But you don’t just think [it’s OK because] you’re younger. Some guys said, ‘So you had two strikeouts, why are you getting mad at yourself? You’re just 20.’ I said, yeah, but do you think I want to be here for three years in Double-A? I want to keep going with my career.”

He’s doing fine in the view of Braves officials, who’ve seen Bethancourt continue to impact games with his arm.

“Bet is progressing very well,” assistant general manager Bruce Manno said. “He continues to show exceptional defensive skills and his bat is coming.”

Some scouts in the Fall League timed his throws to second base between 1.7-1.8 seconds, outstanding by major league standards. Two scouts said they hadn’t seen a catcher quicker to second base since Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in his prime.

“Some guys have the arm, some guys have the quickness. He has both,” Braves bullpen coach and former catcher Eddie Perez said. “Him and Pudge have both. That’s what I told him.”

30 comments Add your comment

JT Grace

July 8th, 2012
8:34 pm

Bethancourt’s selection to the Futures Game points to the really weak farm system that the Braves have right now. All teams must have at least one representative and he was it.

Dogsbrekky4President

July 8th, 2012
8:34 pm

Hey Dave

Thanks for the article… good stuff… unless McCann loses 30lbs in the next year he will be a Yankee I suspect… Bethancourt will be here 2014

Luv them Braves

July 8th, 2012
8:36 pm

Luv them Braves

July 8th, 2012
8:38 pm

We can wait. McCann said several weeks ago he had figured out what was wrong with his offense. Looks like he was correct!

joe

July 8th, 2012
8:43 pm

JT Grace: I think the rules of the Future’s game dictate that no players have MLB experience. Teheran, Simmons, Delgado, Pastornicky and Vizcaino (even though he’s out with injury), 5 of the Braves’ top-10 prospects, have all gotten action in the Big Leagues.

The reason they weren’t better represented was because all of their “stud” prospects have already contributed in a setting, however minor, that many of the players on today’s Futures teams never will (the Major Leagues), not because they’re particularly thin.

CJ

July 8th, 2012
8:43 pm

Bethancourt is at least 3 – 4 years away from being major league ready and that is if he ever learns to hit. The Braves should have left him in A Rome this season. He wasn’t ready for AA pitching and that shows with his .278 OBP. The Braves need to extend Brian McCann’s contract for at least 4-5 years until this kid is given time to be major league ready.

JT Grace

July 8th, 2012
8:51 pm

Joe, the Braves farm system is really, really weak right now BECAUSE most of the best players have graduated….no one replaced them. I would estimate that they will be a bottom ten system in the BA rankings for next season. Teheran is the only elite prospect left in the system right now and his star is fading fast. They have some good young talent at the lower levels like J.R. Graham that are showing some promise but they are few and far between. The most recent draft was their best they have had in years so hopefully some of those kids work out.

Frank Wren

July 8th, 2012
9:01 pm

There sure are some smart people around here!

Chc4

July 8th, 2012
9:05 pm

Actually the Braves minor league system is so weak b/c they have drafted so poorly the last 3-4 years. And our young “stud” prospects like Minor, Delgado and Teheran have not developed as quickly as expected.

Beck

July 8th, 2012
9:21 pm

Yeah, those Simmons, Freeman, and Heyward picks were a waste

All I'm Saying Is...

July 8th, 2012
9:34 pm

Pick up Mac’s option and then trade him at the 2013 trading deadline for prospects…it’s not personal people, its business…better to part with a guy a year too early than a year too late…

LET’S GO BRAVES!

lee maye

July 8th, 2012
9:58 pm

Don’t think our system is weak. Rome and Lynchburg are leading their leagues. Lynchburg won the first half too. Heck, Pitt is starting Sutton in the OF and he was at Gwinnett. We didn’t think he was any good.

Steve-o

July 8th, 2012
10:10 pm

MS Braves are in the Southern League, not App League.

extremus

July 8th, 2012
10:29 pm

Interesting note from MLBTradeRumors.com and Ken Rosenthal regarding the Braves:

•Under GM Frank Wren the Braves won more games while spending less money than every team but the Rays from 2009-11, Rosenthal notes.

While the Braves certainly haven’t been bad record-wise over that span, I have to admit that this stat surprised me quite a bit. The flip side of the coin is, if Wren is actually getting more per dollar spent out of the Braves roster than so many other teams, what (if any) difference would it make if the team had a human, personally invested ownership with deep pockets that was willing to bid for bigger names? I only wish we had a chance to find out.

With Michael Bourn becoming a free agent after this season (and being a Scott Boras client), unfortunately 2013’s biggest “acquisition” would almost certainly be if they retained his services, but it seems unlikely, particularly with finding a replacement for Chipper Jones or Martin Prado (if Prado moves to third base) also looming this winter. And THIS is why so many fans here are always calling for a change in ownership (not to mention Wren’s firing, which given the figure above may not be justified going by what he has to work with); just to retain the status quo is becoming more difficult.

Let’s hope the Braves somehow win it all in 2012, because who knows what the future holds.

Dr Huer

July 8th, 2012
11:47 pm

Great story, thanks DOB. But I doubt he has a “howitzer of an arm,” as a howitzer is basically an oversized mortar that lobs shells in a high arc. How about a cannon of an arm?

z

July 9th, 2012
1:56 am

he’s young, give it time. defense really is remarkable apparently

Coach (2012 Fredi's Beisbol Fandango)

July 9th, 2012
2:25 am

If his bat ever picks up…..McCann is gone, But we will have to wait and see because until Bethancourt hits he’s just another suspect.

longtimefan

July 9th, 2012
5:53 am

Why do a bunch of MLB scouts comment here?

Lemke's Knuckler

July 9th, 2012
9:00 am

I love McCann, but I also think it’ll be tough for the Braves to hand out a 5 year contract at $15/year to a 30-year old catcher with 9 seasons of mileage on his knees.

There are 3 positions on a baseball field that can be game changers…shortstop, center and catcher. We had Andruw for 10 years and saw him consistently take away 2-3 hits per game and now we’re seeing how much Simmons glove at short has affected the outcomes of games. Honestly, I think it’s great when a team can get offense from the catcher position and McCann has been very solid defensively, but I feel very strongly that the most valuable things a catcher should provide are great pitch selection and neutralizing the opposing teams’ running game. Why else would there be so many catchers that are career .200 hitters with 15+ year in the majors.

Total package, McCann is one of the best, no doubt. It’s not the 2014 or even the 2015 seasons that scare me, it’s the last 3 years of a potential deal when he’s pushing 35 that scare me. But I guess that’s the case with most contracts.

And with the way the game is changing, you’re going to start seeing teams put more value on those defensive stalwarts at catcher, short and center. I just can’t see the Braves trading Bethancourt. And if he’s as good as everyone says defensively, I also can’t see not having a position for him in the next few years. Tough situation.

Fastball

July 9th, 2012
10:46 am

To Frank Wren: Trade for Clayton Richard.

Ralph

July 9th, 2012
11:29 am

All I’m Saying Is…
July 8th, 2012
9:34 pm

Pick up Mac’s option and then trade him at the 2013 trading deadline for prospects

You can’t trade him at the end of 2013, he’s a free agent then.

Ralph

July 9th, 2012
11:34 am

Sorry, I mis-read your post, thought you said at the end of 2013, my apology.

John A.

July 9th, 2012
12:32 pm

Regardless of the money available to Frank Wren, why has the minor league rosters not been sustained? At present we have nothing in waiting down on the farm/ If you draft weak…..you remain weak…..RIGHT??????

top rol

July 9th, 2012
1:44 pm

Enter your comments here

top rol

July 9th, 2012
1:47 pm

How can everyone say we have a weak farm system.we have a top ten system look it up ,it will surprise you.

Slammin' HELMETS, and breakin' BATS!

July 9th, 2012
2:39 pm

@ top rol: It’s not weak in terms of pitching, but is in terms of hitting.

Rowsdower

July 9th, 2012
11:29 pm

To the idiot that says the Braves system is weak, may I remind you that 3 of our starters are 22 years old. 22 year olds are usually in the minors. You put Heyward, Freeman and Simmons in the minors and the system is absolutely loaded. They were needed here and have performed.

Not to mention Vizcaino and Delgado who are both 22 and are on the major league roster. Get a clue before you spout your nonsense.

The system is fine.

ncgary

July 10th, 2012
3:42 am

the system is still fine
but the nats have our best scouts

[...] for anything until Brian McCann’s name is signed on the dotted line on a long-term extension. Bethancourt is too good, too special a talent, to give up for any rental player. Especially one who’s only going to make about 10 starts for [...]

http://www.jinyuidc.com/forum.php?mod=viewthread&tid=10682319&fromuid=68280

October 5th, 2013
8:47 pm

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