Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Christian Bethancourt realized a dream when he made his Major League debut on the final day of the 2013 regular season. He was just 22 years old at the time, and should have many more opportunities to suit up for the Atlanta Braves in the years to come.
Despite Evan Gattis reaching folk hero status in his first season as a big leaguer, Bethancourt is the Braves’ catcher of the future. The Panama native has all the defensive tools of a long-time Major League backstop, and his offense took a big step forward in 2013. In 90 games for Double-A Mississippi, Bethancourt hit .277/.305/.436 and posted career highs with 12 home runs, 45 RBI, 21 doubles, and 42 runs scored.
Bethancourt keeps the ball in play. He struck out in 14.7% of plate appearances in 2013 – which was about 5% less than the rest of the Southern League – but a miserable 4.1% walk rate dragged his on-base percentage down. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Bethancourt also proved again that he isn’t the average base-clogging catcher as he stole 11 bases in 18 attempts, giving him at least eight steals in each of the last four seasons.
Where Bethancourt really shines is behind the plate. His strong arm has always been an asset and he threw out 38% of base stealers in his first five professional seasons. Recently, he has also gained a good reputation for handling a staff, and has improved his footwork and ability to block balls in the dirt. Really the only mark against him according to reports, is that he can get lethargic at times, resulting in unnecessary passed balls. With the rough-around-the-edges and injury-prone duo of Gattis and Ryan Doumit two of the Braves’ top catching options, and a 34-year old Gerald Laird mixing in as well, Bethancourt would offer some much needed defensive ability.
Through eight games this spring, Bethancourt is 3-for-14, and unless the recent injury to Doumit deems it necessary, he will not open the season in Atlanta. However, he will be there at some point in 2014 and it will not be long before he is there to stay.