Bethancourt, a cautionary tale about prospects, dealt to Padres

The Braves have traded catcher Christian Bethancourt, who at one time was a highly touted prospect penciled in as the team's catcher of the future. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

The Braves have traded catcher Christian Bethancourt, who at one time was a highly touted prospect penciled in as the team’s catcher of the future. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

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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8 comments
Bogey
Bogey


CBeth's failure to progress had nothing to do with talent, coaching, encouragement, or even the likely % of success in general among all prospects.  This case was entirely about lack of effort.  Eddie Perez publically called CBeth out early in spring training 2014, saying he wasn't making enough effort on the field, in the weight room and definitely not in the film room - that it appeared he was just happy to be invited and knew he wouldn't make the team.  So, in my opinion (and this applies to every athlete in every sport) a player's attitude, work ethic, desire and will are as important as raw talent.  Give me a team full of Martin Prados........


ATLFan
ATLFan

Reminds me of what my college football coach used to say. "Potential gets your @ss beat. Give me players."

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

The issue is more about throwing players into this nebulous category called "prospects" or throwing them into the category of "experienced major leaguer."  


Sure, Bethancourt was highly ranked and highly touted.  But that is based on his tools and some skill that he displayed.  That ranking sort of ignores his red flags, to some degree.  Ranking of prospects is all about players' upside, and there is the possibility of any player to fail, just like there is the possibility that any Major League veteran could suddenly become a lesser player.  


So, in terms of cautionary tales, I think you have to look at every player as an individual, whether a player is a prospect or a Major League veteran.  You have to really dig into his skills, tools, age, body type, position, athleticism, etc. and really know what your doing to project what a player could be and what level of risk you're dealing with.  


It's true that Bethancourt was a highly ranked and highly touted prospect but it's also true that there was always more risk with him that a similarly ranked and touted prospects.  You've got to dig into the player, dig into the reports, rather than just look at rankings.  Often there is nothing like a risk factor index on a player's ranking.  You have to read reports to get an idea of the risks.  

lowlow
lowlow

The head guys were a year ago saying this guy was our catcher for years to come. Look at him now.This worries me about trading people like Simmons for prospects. Just saying!!!!!

Peachs
Peachs

Seems to be a new generation thing, surprise the kids out of Latin America feel this way, but that is the world we live in. 

Kenny Powers
Kenny Powers

Prospects are like lottery tickets. You can hit big or you can end up with trash. But there's been bigger prospects that flamed out and there's been some underdogs like gattis that make it, only time will tell. But I still don't like the Andrelton deal and hated that Olivera deal the other ones including the Kimbrel deal I understand.

TideDawg
TideDawg

@Jetiredo Pretty much right on. Olivera is going to be a problem child. If "prospect pitching" turns out to be great, then Simmons won't be missed . Great pitching doesn't have to depend on great defense as much. It does open the door for Swanson to get a shot much earlier than expected.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@Jetiredo Not really.  Prospects (and players in general) are more like companies that you're trying to decide what to invest in.  They come with various levels of upside and various levels of risk.  They all come with risk.  So in evaluating, you have to take into account both.  


Bethancourt had pretty good upside, perhaps all-star upside.  But there were also risks that, if you read enough reports, no one denied.  But a lot of prospect rankers rank players based a lot on upside. You sort of have to, to a large degree, because the floor of all players is that they remain in the minors and do nothing.  So you can't just wait until a player performs well at the majors to consider him a legit prospect.  This is especially true from a team perspective.  If you are just waiting until players establish themselves to build a team, you obviously are going to be screwed.