On Thursday the Padres and Braves completed a trade sending RHP Casey Kelly and catcher Ricardo Rodriguez to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt. Kelly was a former top prospect who was the centerpiece of the Adrian Gonzalez trade. Rodriguez is just 17 and years old and was one of the top rated prospects among the 2014 international free agents. The trade was essentially a swap of former top prospect who haven’t broken through at the big league level with a high upside lottery ticket thrown in.
Bethancourt was viewed as the catcher of the future in Atlanta after Brian McCann left for the Yankees. He was a top 100 prospect by MLB.com, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus at various times. Despite being highly touted and having success throughout the minor leagues, his defense and bat were never good enough at the major league level to ever get consist at bats. The Braves used his final option last year and they had A.J. Pierzynski, Tyler Flowers and Ryan Lavarnway all ahead of him on the depth chart.
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So why would the Padres give up two guys who had potential for someone who has failed at the big league level for two consecutive seasons at a position that the Padres have depth at? The only answer that I can come up with is that A.J. Preller believes in Bethancourt more than the catchers currently on the roster. Derek Norris and Austin Hedges handled the catching duties last year and they have added Erik Kratz and Josmil Pinto along with Bethancourt this offseason. Kratz and Pinto are nothing more than backups with no real upside and Norris is all bat with no defense while Hedges is all defense with no bat. Bethancourt has the ability to be a good defender while being an above average hitter as well and that’s the likely reason why Preller traded for him.
So far the only skill that Bethancourt has shown in the major leagues is his arm. His sub 2 second pop time is elite and it is carried over from every level he has played for. It’s a weapon that controls the run game and could make someone pause. Everything else has been a disaster for him. Despite playing in just 48 games his 8 passed balls were tied for 8th in all of baseball. That’s a little scary combine that with him being one of the worst framers in the league and it more than offsets the defensive value of his arm.
On offense things aren’t much better. For his career .219/.245/.283 in 80 games. He strikes out a lot and doesn’t walk or make hard contact very much. That’s usually not a very good combination, but there is some reason to have hope for his future. In 52 games at AAA last year he was very impressive at the plate hitting .327/.359/.480. He still didn’t walk very much and the strikeouts were still high, but he’s shown that he’s found something that works. Even so the difference between AAA pitching and major league pitching is still a pretty big difference and he’ll still need to make more adjustments.
You should expect to see Bethancourt on the Opening Day roster this year. Despite all his flaws, he’s out of options and the Padres are probably afraid they’ll lose him on waivers.The Padres must see something in him and hopefully he’ll show it.