Braves prospect Bethancourt staying patient as offense develops
MAY 08, 2014 4:09p ET
GWINNETT, Ga. -- With a pop time -- how long it takes a catcher to receive a pitcher and get the ball to second base -- that's just a tick below Pudge Rodriguez at 1.78 seconds, Christian Bethancourt's defense has never been questioned.
The Braves prospect's offense is still developing -- and that power, that's coming.
During batting practice at Triple-A Gwinnett's Coolray Field, the 22-year-old hit a towering drive over top of the stone retaining wall that sits 20 feet behind the left-center field fence, one of a number of deep balls off right-handed Bethancourt's bat.
"There are some things that come with time," Bethancourt siad. "I'm working every day. I'm working my (butt) off in the cage and during the game I'm talking to the hitting coach all the time and working on everything."
The ability to go deep hasn't exactly translated into his in-game performance, as Bethancourt needed 19 games to hit his first home run of the season. But Bethancourt did hit 12 homers last season -- two less than he hit in the previous four seasons combined.
On the year, he's hitting .241/.293/.333 (20 for 83) with four doubles and 12 RBI, and while he does have unsavory strikeout (26.5) and walk rates (5.6) and is struggling vs. lefties (.167), Gwinnett manager Brian Snitker has seen plenty to like in Bethancourt's first full season above Double-A.
"I see a lot of really good offensive qualities: bat speed, strength and he's a coordinated kid. It's just about learning to play the game," Snitker said. "This year's he's facing guys who have done it longer, so consequently, they know how to do it better than some of the younger guys. ... They prey on the aggressiveness of the hitter to get guys out."
Bethancourt has three multi-hit games in his last five, including going 3-for-4 with that first HR of '13 last Saturday against Lehigh Valley and is hitting .368/.400/.579 in the early goings of May.
At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, the Panamanian added 10 pounds since last spring and is still filling out. He's well aware of the scouting report -- that the bat hasn't caught up with his glove -- and he's made that a focus to position himself for a permanent spot in Atlanta, sooner rather than later.
"I'm young, (but) I don't want to (wait) until I'm 24, 25 (to reach the majors,)" he said."I want to get ready so I can get up there and help the team to win championships."
But he's not doing so at the expense of expanding his defensive acumen.
"Because I'm not a real good hitter, I'm not going to lay off (working on) my defense," he said. "Nah, I'm always trying to work on my defense while I'm working on my hitting.
Bethancourt's name had been bandied about as the successor to Brian McCann behind the plate for the Braves, but that was before the emergence of Evan Gattis. With both Gerald Laird and Ryan Doumit's deals set to expire this season, the most logical path for Bethancourt would be his making the Braves 25-man roster in 2015, then letting things play themselves out between him and Gattis for the future of the position.
"You've just got to be patient," Bethancourt said. "You just have to wait for your time. Gattis has the opportunity and he's still taken advantage of it ... so I'm just waiting on mine."
Patience is the opportune word when it comes to Bethancourt, because, as Snitker says "they see what there's to be had."
Listed as the No. 87 prospect on Baseball Prospects' rankings and second among Braves behind right-handed pitcher Lucas Sims, it seems unlikely that Bethancourt reaches Atlanta before a September call-up, which he did last year. He appeared in one game, making one plate appearance as a pinch-hitter in which the Phillies' Tyler Cloyd struck him out on three pitches.
While the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado had already established themselves as everyday starters at ages younger than Bethancourt is now, the Braves are taking things slow with their potential future star.
"They run them into the big leagues younger than ever without every knowing the game," said Snitker, who served as the Braves' third base coach from 2007-13. "It's kind of the industry and it's hard for these guys because a lot of times we move them before they ever get settled in the league and learn the game."
During his call up last season, Bethancourt watched and he learned. He saw the leadership that McCann brought to the Braves clubhouse and has already had a similar impact in Gwinnett. Snitker has used Bethancourt, who speaks fluent English, as a go-between to communicate with other Latin American players.
"It comes with my job as a catcher," Bethancourt siad. "I have to be a leader at some point ... I learned that last year watching B-Mac. It was a great example for me to just try and bring that leadership this year and just try and be the guy they want behind the plate."