The Padres last night were going to use Christian Bethancourt in RF to get him some more at-bats. They scrapped that and called on him as a pinch hitter and he hit a home run – why isn’t he starting more at catcher?
Padres fans were excited when they traded for Derek Norris – dubbed an “offensive catcher” – after watching Yasmani Grandal struggle at the plate and get suspended or hurt more often than actually play behind the plate. So why are they sticking with the sub .200 Norris and not just putting Bethancourt behind the dish every night?
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“He hasn’t had much opportunity to work there. He just needs more time out there. At some point in time, my ideal scenario is it’s a 9-0 game somewhere down the line, and now we’ve got him out in left field to get his feet wet. He feels comfortable, catches a couple baseballs, relaxes.”
Which makes sense, but consider the following statistics: In 44 AB’s Bethancourt has 4 HR, 12 hits (.273) and just 9 strikeouts(20%). Norris has 125 AB’s with 4 HR, 22 hits(.176) and 35 K’s(28%).
Last year Norris ended up hitting .250/.305/.536 (BA/OBP/OPS) with a career high 14 home runs, with drastically improved defense from the infamous 2014 AL Wild Card game where the Royals ran wild on him.
Yet Bethancourt is known for his defense and arm – and he is the one hitting more this season so far. Last season Norris threw out just 34% of base stealers, allowing 84 and catching 44. Of course that is never an isolated incident as pitchers make a difference. Indeed last year’s backup catcher Austin Hedges had about the same percentage rate.
One reason behind all of this could simply be trade strategy. The Padres have three Major League ready catchers (by most estimates) and could simply be trying to get Norris’ bat up to par so they can trade him at the deadline. Several contending teams need a solid veteran catcher and Norris could easily provide that – leaving the Padres with two young catching options to duke it out for full time playing rights in 2017 – and perhaps another trade in the making.
For now, Bethancourt is enjoying everything he can as another former Atlanta Braves trying to resurrect his career in San Diego along with Melvin Upton Jr.. He doesn’t care how he gets in there but he will be ready, knowing it will be different: “The adrenaline is going to be different, because it’s game adrenaline. It’s completely different — practice and a game.”
My argument would be the Padres start playing Bethancourt more behind the plate and use Norris more as the back-up or sub for Wil Myers at first base when he needs a day off. It might allow them to get Norris in better match-ups and get his average up – making him more attractive to teams and give him more position versatility. Bethancourt is two years younger than Norris and won’t be a free agent until 2021. Norris will be in 2019.
If Hedges was stashed in AAA to determine who the Padres want between Bethancourt and Norris – I would say so far in 2016 there is a clear winner, and that’s Christian Bethancourt.