Christian Bethancourt was considered by many to be one of the Braves' top prospects over the last couple of years. He was lauded for his defensive ability behind the plate (in particular his arm and quick release) as well as his improvement at the plate during the course of his minor league career. To say he was the prohibitive favorite for the starting catching spot for the Braves in 2015 is an understatement and many assumed he was the catcher of the future for the Braves. This was true even as a late season call-up in 2014 didn't go particularly well
When the Braves sent Christian Bethancourt back down to AAA Gwinnett in mid-June, he was a mess. He's slash line of .198/.221/.287 was not good and only appeared in 29 games due to his struggles and the re-emergence of AJ Pierzynski. What was even more upsetting to the Braves was his seemingly lax attitude towards game preparation, questions about his hustle, and his mental mistakes on defense (in particular with passed ball being an issue). As a result, the Braves sent him back down to Gwinnett to see if he could turn things around.
Down in Gwinnett, Christian has most certainly been hitting well with a slash line (more stats here) of .316/.351/.472, but to really look at what Bethancourt has been up to down in Gwinnett and see if he has improved in the areas that the Braves had been hoping, Garrett and I thought it was a good time to sit down and have a chat about Christian Bethancourt. Thanks again to Garrett Spain for the video as well for answering some questions.
First and foremost, lets just get this out of the way...do you think that Bethancourt has improved and taken advantage of his time spent at Gwinnett?
That's kind of a tricky question. He has clearly shown statistical improvement both offensively and with passed balls over his numbers with Atlanta, but hasn't been all that much better than the player he was at the end of the season in 2014. His hustle has shown some improvement from the first game I watched in Gwinnett to this one, though his effort is still lackluster.
How has his bat looked? He was sent down partially because of his struggles at the plate, has he changed his approach or made any adjustments?
I don't feel that he's made many adjustments other than maybe hitting a few more fly balls than he did in Atlanta. It's going to be difficult for him to adjust to major league pitching while hitting against AAA pitchers, so I doubt he'll show much improvement at the plate. He has been notably slow to adjust to new levels throughout his career, so struggles at the plate were and remain an expectation.
While his bat was holding him back a bit, one of the primary sources of disappointment in C-Beth was in his defensive lapses and lackluster ability to call games. What can you tell us about his progress there?
His focus on defense has clearly improved to what I saw early. He seems to be more engaged in the game, and is well aware of the situation and his surroundings. His main issues has been his lack of effort to block pitches in the dirt. He continues to scoop every pitch in the dirt - I haven't seen him block one in 6 games, and has been fortunate to not have a passed ball since his first game. He is fairly good at scooping the ball, but he's not a first baseman and needs to work hard this offseason on that. If he shows some improvement in that area I think it would go a long way towards easing questions about his work ethic.
How would you rate his pitch framing? Is he giving his pitchers some help or is it an area of weakness?
It is still a major problem area. He only properly framed 1 pitch the entire game that I saw, and often cost his pitchers borderline calls. It was not for lack of trying, but his receiving is raw and will take work for him to be an above average catcher
How is he moving behind the plate? He always seemed reasonably quick back there when he wanted to be. How well is he blocking balls and keeping the passed balls and wild pitches down?
He's very quick behind the plate, and has shown his quick hands and feet. It's most obvious in his ability to get out of his crouch quickly, allowing him to show off the strong arm he's known for. He has managed to keep passed balls to just 1, but still isn't getting in front of very much outside of his body.
How has his demeanor looked on the field? It seemed like some of the frustrations the Braves were having were with his lack of urgency or even hustle. Have you seen any issues?
He showed major hustle issues early on, as you can see early in the video with him running out a ground ball. He put more effort in the later games with that, but still isn't one to run out ground balls. He seems somewhat egotistical at times, acting like he is above even acknowledging fans with a wave when they call his name as he walks out to warm up before games. That's obviously a little detail, but it really seems to hint at his mentality towards the game. He doesn't seem to talk to teammates much on the bench before and during games, although he did gravitate some towards Sugar Ray Marimon. This is possibly a language barrier issue though.
This is the moment of truth....should the Braves move on from Christian Bethancourt as their catcher of the future. This isn't asking if they should call him up in September...but whether the Braves should be looking for a new catcher for 2016 and beyond.
I've long been a major supporter of Bethancourt, and still believe he has more than enough tools to be a very good major league catcher. I haven't seen enough improvement in his attitude or defensive abilities to say he's fixed or that the Braves should be on him. He deserves the starting nod in 2016, but the team would be wise to look elsewhere if he can't show commitment. I can't claim to have any knowledge of his actions outside of gameday, so it wouldn't be right for me to make some damning statement about him, but I do have my doubts. They should be patient with his bat, but if he hasn't shown any improvements in his mentality or defense they should be quick to give him the hook. Some guys just don't get it, and it's a possibility he may be one of those
Anything else you want to share about Bethancourt?
He gets overconfident in his arm on a pretty regular basis. He has thrown balls to first attempting to pick off a runner in a situation he has no chance to throw the runner out. He still makes it close, and on one occasion I saw where he almost threw a runner out, but his arm can be inaccurate at times and he chances bad errors. It's a nice tool to control the secondary leads for runners, but I'd personally like to see him cut back on it a bit.