If the Braves could be granted one wish for the blur of prospects that they have been acquiring over the past several months, it’s this: That they all live up to their billing better than Christian Bethancourt.
The Braves cleared the decks for Bethancourt, who once knighted the team’s catcher of the future and a potential future star. It was partly because of Bethancourt’s projected career that led the team to allow Brian McCann to leave in free agency and dealing Evan Gattis. But after failing to improve defensively in the last three years, in part because of an apparent unwillingness to work at his craft, Bethancourt was traded to San Diego for two prospects (pitcher Casey Kelly, a former first-round pick recently back from Tommy John surgery, and catcher Ricardo Rodriguez).
If there is a book of a cautionary tale for recent highly touted baseball prospects, Bethancourt is it. The 24-year-old Panamanian has all of the physical tools to be successful, including a powerful arm, but simply hasn’t turned into the player that the Braves or those who obsess over prospect rankings expected.
Baseball America ranked Bethancourt the Braves’ No. 3 prospect last December after having him No. 2 the year before. MLB.com listed him among baseball’s top 100 prospects at No. 82 last year.
His problem? Defense. The Braves could put up with offensive issues. (Bethancourt hit .327 with Triple-A Gwinnett but only .205 in 48 games and 155 at-bats in the big leagues last year.) But with a young pitching staff and an offensively challenged roster, they couldn’t afford his struggles behind the plate. He had four errors and eight passed balls during his brief time with the Braves and three errors and a passed ball in the minors.
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said last July, “I don’t think he has embraced what it is he needs to do to sell out to his pitching staff, to drive the train.”
When I spoke to Bethancourt August, he acknowledged his mistakes. Here’s a link to that story.
“Obviously, nobody wants to be in Triple A,” he said. “That’s the reality. Nobody wants to be here; everybody wants to be in the big leagues. But while I’m here I have to make myself a better player so when I get back I’m a better player than I was when I was there.”
Right words. But his actions didn’t back it up. Just something to keep in mind during this Braves’ rebuilding project.
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