ATLANTA — Catching prospect Christian Bethancourt was sent back to Triple-A as expected Monday when the Braves brought Evan Gattis off the disabled list, but Bethancourt left a strong impression after three weeks with the major league club.
“I told him that I was very pleased, and the major league staff was very pleased, with the way he went about his business,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. ” He was impressive — catching, offensively. This guy’s going to be our catcher of the future. He’s just going to have to wait his turn, which is probably hard for young players to realize that.
“But he was very impressive defensively, I thought he got better offensively, and the catching position is a violent position, so be ready — you’re a foul tip away, or backswing away, to come back up.”
At 23, Bethancourt has instilled confidence that he’s ready if needed for regular duty. Bethancourt erased questions that some people had about how long it would take for him to put it all together, for his bat and game-calling skills to begin to catch up with his undeniable physical skills including an exceptional throwing arm.
He hit .240 (12-for-50) with a double, three RBIs, two walks and 14 strikeouts, and had a .283 OBP and .260 slugging percentage in 13 games. Not great, but not bad for a rookie with only one previous major league at-bat, and a young catcher trying to deal with all that’s involved in that position.
Bethancourt had a few big hits and was 7-for-27 (.259) with runners on base and 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position. After going 6-for-20 (.300) with a double and five strikeouts in his first five games, including a three-hit game July 5, he was 6-for-30 (.200) with two walks and nine strikeouts in his last eight games.
Braves pitchers have a 3.38 ERA in 117 1/3 innings with Bethancourt catching, a 3.22 ERA in 483 innings with Gattis, and a 3.47 ERA in 267 innings with veteran backup Gerald Laird. It’s usually not a good idea to make too much of those numbers, but pitchers have had good things to say about the job Bethancourt’s done calling games and learning the tendencies of a group of pitchers, most of whom he had previoiusly caught very little or not at all.
Bullpen coach Eddie Perez, a former catcher, was a candid critics of Bethancourt not long ago, when he thought the talented kid was taking things for granted and expected to get to the majors on reputation alone. Now, Perez admires how Bethancourt has worked and shown desire and awareness of his situation and what it’ll take to reach his potential.
“He’s a different animal now,” Perez said. “That’s what I want to see. And everybody’s happy. I’m happy. He’s showing us that he’s ready for this…. I was waiting for this from him. He’s proved to us that he’s ready, he’s working hard, he’s learning.
“In spring training, he knew he was going to Triple-A. He wanted to learn but he didn’t show me on the field that he was ready. But like I said, he’s a different animal now. And I’m very happy for him. I’m very happy for the whole team, the whole organization, because we’ve been waiting for him, and now he’s ready, he’s showing us that he can do a lot of things, not only catching but hitting too.
“I knew he was going to hit. He’s learning, but I always thought he was going to be OK with his bat. My main thing is catching, and he’s doing a tremendous job (with that) right now. He’s blocking. He’s not throwing too many people out because he hasn’t had many chances, but I’m very happy for him and how he’s playing.
“I’m excited. I think he’s got more things to show, too…. I was anxious to see him develop the tools that he’s got, but now he’s where he is and he’s going to be special. He is special. He’s showing everybody that he’s a No. 1 prospect as a catcher.”