Christian Bethancourt (by Rusty S.)

With the signing of A.J. Pierzynski as a 3rd catcher, the Braves appear to be serious about moving Evan Gattis to left field, thus surrendering the offensive competitive advantage they have enjoyed at catcher for the past 20 years. Since 1994, apart from 2 years of Johnny Estrada, the Braves have started sluggers Javy Lopez, Brian McCann, and Gattis at the position, and even Estrada was an All-Star for the Braves in 2004, batting .314.

This may be good news for Christian Bethancourt, but no one has any illusions about any offensive advantage coming from him this year. Eyeballing his minor league stats, the 2014 .248/.274 batting average/on base percentage Bethancourt put up in 113 at bats in Atlanta looks to be a good starting point for projecting his 2015. I can see him hitting as many as 5 home runs if he gets 300 at bats.

Bethancourt is regarded as a prospect due to his defensive reputation, and he threw out 38% of potential base stealers in his minor league career. However, in his last two minor league seasons he had 13 and 10 passed balls respectively in 85 and 80 games, and had 6 more in 39 games in Atlanta. (Is that a lot? That seems like a lot.)

On the plus side, Bethancourt will not be 24 until September, and has been young for his league at every level. He has started to develop some semblance of power the last two minor league seasons, hitting 12 and 8 homers in 388 and 365 at bats.

Bethancourt may grow up to be Welington Castillo someday, but that day won’t come in 2015. It seems that the Braves have decided that their new competitive advantage is going to be 8th place hitters — in 2015, they are on pace to start 4 of them.

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86 thoughts on “Christian Bethancourt (by Rusty S.)”

  1. ‘new competitive advantage is going to be 8th place hitters – in 2015, they are on pace to start 4 of them’ That is funny.

    The truth hurts, but it is funny.

  2. We get to start A below average offense of player at catcher in all we have to do is move a terrible defense is outfielder to left field? Why would we not do that?

  3. In my opinion, moving Gattis to LF is value suicide. If that’s the plan, I hope he’s traded this next month.

  4. You place too much value in corner OF defense. If Gattis hits 30 HR next season he is very valuable no matter where he plays. You saw how the RH power market played out this off season.

    edit: I do see your point. A catcher that hits with power is more valuable than a defensively challenged OF’er. But my point is that for the Braves they need him to get more PA’s. If it turns out the neither Gattis nor Bethancourt are flourishing I guess you could move Gattis back to C and try Almonte or the Cuban guy a chance in LF.

  5. @4

    Totally true as long as we’re not trying to win. If we’re just showcasing his bat for the other teams out there–and I don’t see why we shouldn’t at this point–it’s probably the right move.

  6. @4
    Your edit was exactly my point. His value skyrockets if he’s an average defensive catcher that can hit 30 HR, not if he’s a below average LF that can do the same.

  7. Thoughts from the last thread:

    1. The 2014 Braves were not “only bad in September.” They were horrible offensively all year, and after April and early May, the WTF pitching out of the gate (sub-1 ERAs by Harang, Santana and David Hale) predictably came back to earth, at which point the team was bad from then on out. In September they were putrid.

    2. If you can get value that will contribute more to winning in 2016-18 than Mike Minor will, you should trade Mike Minor. If you can’t (and the market is not for starting pitching this year) you should keep him and try to extend him.

  8. @6 – I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that he is more valuable if he plays 150 games in LF and hits 30HR than what he has been, which is an oft injured catcher with defensive issues that hits 20HR in 110 games.

  9. @9 and why would he all of a sudden become healthy as a LF? Regardless, teams looking to add Gattis would likely be AL teams. Providing well below average defense in LF wouldn’t be the flexibility that teams would covet. Playing DH for 100 games and spelling the everyday catcher would be much more appealing to a team. His catching skills are considered borderline due to his inexperience. He needs innings behind the plate.

  10. Playing left field is a lot less physically taxing than playing catcher. That’s not to say it will cure all that ails him, since he has comparatively few miles on his legs relative to most catchers his age, but it’s generally considered a less demanding position to play.

  11. @4/5/6

    The last catcher to hit 30 HRs in MLB was Javy Lopez (42) in 2003. That same season Jorge Posada (30) just touched the mark.

    Of the 33 seasons a catcher has hit 30+ HRs (while catching; not counting DH seasons, etc), 18 of them occurred during the “Sillyball” era from 1993-2003. This also coincides with Mike Piazza’s career. Piazza* accounts for 9 of those seasons by himself.

    The league leader for catchers in 2014 was Devin Mesoraco, who hit 25 in 384 at bats. Brian McCann notched 23 in 495 at bats (spotting time at DH) and then comes Gattis (22/369) and Buster Posey (22/574.)

    The only guy there that hits homers more frequently than Gattis is Mesoraco, once every 0.651 at bats to once every 0.596 at bats. If you somehow up Gattis’ AB total to that of a more traditional every day catcher, he still doesn’t break 30. If he catches 140 games and matches McCann’s 495 ABs, he hits 29. (29.512 if you’re into rounding, so you can kinda say “30” if you want to pick nits.) If you give him Buster Posey’s at bats, he hits 32.

    The obvious question is “how likely is it that Evan Gattis, as a catcher, is going to crack 500 at bats?” I think the honest answer there is “rather small.” He hasn’t shown the durability to physically take that kind of beating yet. He’s showna distinct lack of said durability, in fact. And of course, you have to ask the follow-on, which is how would his HR/AB rate hold up down the stretch if he *did* manage 500+ at bats.

    Which is not to say Gattis shouldn’t catch, nor that he’s not a prodigious power threat from the position. But he’s hardly the only C in the league who can crack 20-25 dingers. Six players with primary catching duties did that in 2014. (Hell, Tyler Flowers hit 15 for the White Sox.) And the odds of him breaking the 30 HR mark is markedly low. There’s a reason he’s tabbed as a DH in waiting; much like Brian McCann and Victor Martinez, he simply doesn’t project to hold up behind the plate for a full season.

    *Mike Piazza really, really needs to go into the HOF.

  12. RE: Alex’s point @10, you don’t take foul tips off your fingers and toes in LF. You don’t crouch all game in LF. The first is the reason catchers are generally part time players even on their best days (and why Posey’s a freak.) The second is more specific to Gattis, who has already shown back issues behind the plate.

  13. Right, which is why you showcase his bat in left field. The more good he does in more at bats, the more we can get for him. AL clubs aren’t going to be looking at his defense out there because they don’t plan to play him out there–they already know that.

  14. @7

    Sam, what’s the argument for extending Mike Minor? He’s already with us through 2017 if we want him, and until then we have the opportunity to non-tender him if he implodes. I don’t want to get into another Chris Johnson situation.

  15. For the 2015 Braves, Gattis is more valuable as a LF. We simply need his bat in there more than 110 games. If we had a legit LF, sure you play Gattis at catcher, but we don’t. If all we are doing is showcasing him for trade, which is a legitimate exercise, I am going to do a 180 here and say that he is more valuable on the trade market as a less taxed LF’r than a fragile catcher. Sorry Ryan but I’m gonna disagree with you here. If Gattis had shown some durability in his two seasons then you would be right by a large margin but he hasn’t and I think the Braves are right to exploit his one great tool, power and play him in LF.

  16. Ed @15 – the short, snarky answer is “Brett Anderson.” Mike Minor is a fungible #3 starter with high #2 upside. At his worst, he’s a #4 innings eater. If he’s asking for Max Scherzer money? Have a nice time in New York, Mike. If he’ll extend in the 10-11 mil range that his services go for? Extend him. As you say, you have leeway with Minor that you didn’t have with Heyward, in that he’s here through 2017 regardless, so you have another two years to see if he goes forwards or backwards in development.

  17. I detailed why in another post, but he’s more valuable behind the plate in 2/3 of the games unless the left fielder he replaces is nearly as bad at hitting. If he’s worth 120 per at bat, Beth’s worth 90, and the replacement’s worth 100, it’s an offensive wash.

    That’s assuming he can start every game in left, there isn’t any offensive drop-off, and defense doesn’t matter.

  18. Gattis could very well cost the Braves a run every 4-5 games in the outfield. Explain to me how he’d be more valuable to the Braves in left field.

  19. I don’t mean this as an accusation against anyone, just a note: the folks who valued Jason Heyward most highly should, by all rational accounts, be the folks most reticent to put Gattis in LF. If corner OF defense is as important as Heyward’s WAR would argue, then you have to question Gattis in LF. If you’re on the other side of the Gattis in LF defense question, then you should by all rights be more sanguine with flipping out of Jason Heyward.

  20. Like I said in @5: we’re not trying to compete. So it doesn’t matter. He’s going to be terrible out there, but it doesn’t matter.

  21. @20 – You’re right about that. I fail to see the difference between runs given up in CF and the corners so I’ve been appalled by literally every move the Braves have made so far as it relates to OF/C. And surely it’s not the case that people think LF defense really doesn’t matter at all, right? Isn’t it just that it’s generally assumed that it’s easier for a good defender to have good defensive numbers there because he’s being compared to a group of crappy-fielding peers? When you’re a negative in LF that means you’re REALLY REALLY bad just the same way that you have to have all-world numbers to prove you’re a great fielder in LF/RF. We should put this question to rest once and for all – put Gattis somewhere between Bethancourt and the backstop so he can catch the barrage of passed balls and just don’t play anyone in LF.

  22. It is not true that they’re “not trying to compete.” They’re not (unrealistically) targeting a playoff run next year, but they are quite clearly making an effort to keep the on-field product above a certain threshold of suck. They recognize (rightly so IMHO, your may vary naturally) that they’re not a championship caliber team in 2015 and that a flyer on “make the WC play-in and pray” isn’t a sound strategy for a single year, much less a multi-year strategic plan. But they have a hard stop, drop dead date on the rebuild; 2017 and the new park. So they are looking to thread the needle. Drop down to the level of the Royals 2010-13 for a season or two, then bounce back into championship contention in 2017 and beyond. They are attempting quite obviously to avoid dropping to the levels of the recent vintage Astros.

    They are, in fact, trying to compete. They are trying to compete nominally, to avoid a complete collapse of the professional infrastructure at the MLB level, in 2015. They are trying quite adamantly to compete in the near-term future, both for the sake of competition and for the sake of their bottom line with the new stadium.

  23. We’ve got some semantic dissonance between us on the word “compete,” and that’s okay.

    But the reason Gattis’s defense in left, if indeed that’s where he plays this year, is incidental is because of the hard stop, drop dead date you mention. I’m confident he’s not going to have a place on this team by then. So putting a shine on his bat so we might extract more of a return of players for our future winning team is worth the hit our W column is going to take in 2015. He’ll be terrible out there. I wish it mattered more.

  24. Good bit at the link @24. It explicates why Heyward wasn’t going to sign a team friendly extension in Atlanta, and why he’s almost certainly priced out of their mid-market budget without a hometown discount. If the Cards give him 8-10 years of 22-25 mil, he’ll sign the extension. (The Braves can’t afford that.) If they don’t, he’ll go free agent and get 6-8 years at 22-25 mil per. (Someone will take the chance on his profile.)

  25. We disagree on the value of “putting a shine on his bat” by playing him in LF. His bat is a known quantity. Potential trade partners know what he is offensively, and they know where they could use him on their squads. Maybe they catch him, maybe they play him in LF some, maybe they DH him if it’s an AL club. But that’s the only variable here. People know what Evan Gattis is at this point. He’s a big SLG, low OBP, defensive liability at most positions. Having him prove that by playing him in LF isn’t going to impact his overall trade value unless he goes Chris Davis and jacks 52.

  26. BJ Upton blurp <a href="http://nypost.com/2014/12/30/how-royals-magical-roster-nearly-got-a-july-shakeup/"in this NY Post bit (third articleoid down.)

    Atlanta was willing to eat significant portions of the three years at $46.35 million left on the deal and/or take a bad contract back. But nothing worked, so the Braves are left to paint an optimistic view of the situation – notably that upbeat new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer could work some magic and that Upton is saying all the right stuff about the need for adjustments.

    However, Upton has hit just .198 with a .593 OPS the past two years combined. The only player in major league history to get at least 1,000 plate appearances combined and produce equal or worse stats in those two categories was Zoilo Versalles in 1967-68 (.198/.522).

    Privately, the Braves are saying they will not tolerate more of the same and keep feeding Upton consistent at-bats. In fact, Upton has fallen so far that Atlanta would consider a Plan B that is a platoon between Yankees castoff Zoilo Almonte and Todd Cunningham, whose eight major league at-bats came in 2013.

    If nothing else, Upton has accomplished this – his struggles created a way to get the only two Zoilos ever to play in the majors into the same story.

  27. He doesn’t have to go all Chris Davis. If Gattis hits 35 homers his value goes up tremendously, but I don’t think he can do it in <550 plate appearances. At his current career rate of 1 home run per 18.whatever plate appearances, he'd need 637 chances. He won't get so many if he's catching.

  28. @19 – We do see the value of corner OF defense differently (See #20). I am not saying that it doesn’t make a difference I am saying that it makes less difference than you do. Gattis provides more value because he’ll get to hit more in LF than at catcher. That’s true even if he stayed off the DL as a catcher.

    @24 – I’ll be surprised if the Cards offer him a 200 million dollar extension. I think they will wait to see if he hits more first. But in this market, who knows. Yeah if that was something close to what he was asking for, the Braves wouldn’t/couldn’t meet it and they did right to trade him.

    The Jacoby comparison is flawed. First Jacoby is a Center Fielder, second its the Yankees, who have overpaid for almost all of their free agents. Once again though I will say in this market who knows.

  29. The free agent market isn’t set by what someone *should* pay, it’s set by what the Yankees or Angels or Dodgers *will* pay.

  30. I think the argument that left-field defense doesn’t matter goes both ways. It means Gattis can play it, but it means it would extraordinarily easy to find an average hitting replacement. The value of his bat this year is determined by the value of the bat it keeps out of the lineup.

    The move will look smart from an offensive standpoint if Bethancourt hits slightly below average, but I think that’s overly optimistic.

  31. Billy Ripken says it’s time to normalize AL and NL play. The AL will not drop the DH. Therefore, the NL should adopt it this year or next.

    I hate the DH, but I agree with Rip. It’s time to homogenize the game. As a bonus, it would keep cost-efficient EOB a Brave.

    Forgive me, but do it now, MLB.

  32. I said when the Thrashers left Atlanta I was done with the NHL… and while I haven’t been totally devoid of NHL I can say I have not been to any live games (even though I have had opportunities) and I have not been to Philips Arena at all for any events. I have maybe watched parts of perhaps a dozen NHL games since the Thrashers left Atlanta. So when I say I will be done with MLB when the DH comes to the NL it will most certainly mean the end of my season tickets for the Braves and I will not attend any MLB events nor purchase any more merchandise. If I’m honest with myself I think I will probably watch parts of games a couple of times a year. But I will essentially be done.

  33. .257/.322/.402/.724 was the league average slash line for MLB LFs last season. I think its harder than you think to acquire such a player.

    NO DH.

  34. Totally off subject, but I figure some of you will know the answer: Do all 40 players on the major league roster receive at least major league minimum salaries, or only those on the active roster (plus those on the DL)?

  35. You have to be on the 25 man to get the rookie minimum. If a guy on the 40 man gets called up midseason he gets a prorated share of the rookie min, based on his number of service days. The 40 man isn’t related to the salary requirements. It is simply a list of player the organization is protecting from other orgs.

  36. @38

    They have to actually be on the Major League club. So anybody on the 40-man roster and on the actual Major League team during September get a prorated sum of the minimum. For the rest of the year, you have to be on the 25-man active roster. Also, as I alluded to a second ago, players recieve a prorated amount of the league minimum, based on the amount of time they’re up at the big-league level. You have to be up on the active roster (players still get paid the league minimum of they’re on the Major League DL, I believe) for the full year to get the full league minimum. If a player’s up for a month, he gets a month’s worth of league minimum salary.

  37. And rookie minimum is about 500k, so those 1 month callups, which amount to 1/5 of a season, are worth 100k or so. There’s a reason guys hold on to the “shuttle” position in AAA, aside from the “love of the game.”

  38. @37 That’s considerably better than I expect from Bethancourt, and Gattis was only .263/.317/.493. I’d feel a heck of a lot better with that replacing two-thirds of Bethancourt’s at-bats.

  39. @36. I feel the same way. If the DH comes to the NL (and sadly I think it will eventually), I won’t promise a complete walkaway, but I would probably tap out for a year or two to see how it felt, and I for sure would not be buying any tickets to see a game in person. Im sorry but it is just a tremendously inferior product to watch.

  40. The DH, along with domed stadiums and AstroTurf, can rot in Hell. No way.

    The AL will not drop the DH. Therefore, the NL should adopt it this year or next.

    This argument that “the AL won’t do it, therefore the NL must” is insulting. Why must the NL be the one to conform? Especially when it’s the one that’s right.

  41. @38,

    There is also a rule (and I am not sure of it exactly) that says that if a player is added to the 25 man roster and then optioned back, he has a new minimum salary at minor league level, or else the team has to release him or allow him to be a minor league free agent.

    As of about 5 years ago, that was 150,000. So, a Todd Cunningham, as I understand it, is more expensive to park on the 40 man roster than a Jose Peraza.

  42. There are about 5 guys on our 40-man roster that no team in their right mind would pick up if they were DFA’d…and the Braves are trying to trade them to create room on the 40-man for Tuscano, Grilli, and Pierzynski. The bad thing is that the Braves might actually trade some useful parts away to make room for the useless players they’re trying to trade that no one wants.

  43. Anyone know the ruling on Daniel Winkler? Does he have to be on the 40-man due to the fact he was picked up in the Rule-5 draft, or can he be put on the 60-day DL taking him off the 40-man?

  44. The reason the NL is going to lose on the question of the DH is because the MLBPA isn’t about to let those high paying jobs exit the AL.

  45. Hypothetically, what if the Braves do get a league average left fielder and keep Gattis behind the plate with either Simmons or Johnson somehow pulling off their 2013 numbers instead of 2014. We probably have a better 2nd base situation no matter who wins the starting role which leaves would leave CF as the worst spot. With our current rotation, would we have a shot if all that fell into place?

  46. Smoltzie’s on 90% of the public ballots so far, with 16% of the total ballots reported. Fingers crossed.

    So far 5 guys are above the threshold: Unit, Pedro, Smoltz, Biggio, and Piazza. Bagwell’s sitting at 73%. Those percentages will probably all go down as more ballots become public, but one can hope.

    @52

    Yes to the player–but what would the deal be? Consult your source. You’re looking pretty shaggy anyhow.

  47. If I had a HOF ballot, this would be my 10:
    Biggio, Bagwell, Piazza, Smoltz, Perdo, Johnson, Schilling, Mussina, McGriff and Raines

  48. @53

    Do you have a link to the HOF ballots in?

    I’m not sure we would even get in on Zobrist. Maybe they would like Mike Minor? I’ll go get a hair cut

  49. From Cafardo a few days ago:
    Uggla has been horrible the last couple of years and was released by the Braves. But upon further review, Uggla’s demise might have been because of an undetected concussion he played through. Uggla’s condition was confirmed by doctors this offseason.

    Obviously begs the question, whose doctors? And the truth will ultimately out on the field of play. But embarrassing nonetheless. Maybe we should give our team doctors LASIK.

  50. Peter Hjort was criticizing the Braves’ medical staff back in 2009 and 2010. Doesn’t seem like things have improved.

  51. Have either of our esteemed beat writers addressed the Uggla concussion debacle yet?

    The Cafardo article (scroll down a bunch) was from 12/28.

    I like how he touts Shaft Paint’s “solid defense in right.” It’s Mac’s adage about defensive catchers at work, only in the outfield.

  52. I’m making a genuine effort to look on the bright side… I went from bitterness to cynical amusement (Come on…”Shaft Paint” is a funny nickname) to my current state of concern that this rebuild is going to take a toll on fan community.

  53. Well, the Phillies just got immediately worse and slightly better in 2 years. Looks to have acquired a Cody Martin type back-end starter for Marlon Byrd.

  54. I don’t know anything about the prospect the Phils got but it seems like a small price for Byrd especially since MLBTR is reporting that the Reds are getting cash too.

  55. Trying to be optimistic about the Braves, but it ain’t easy these days. I still hate the move to Cobb, I’ve finally begun to actively loathe our cheap-ass owners & I’m less than thrilled about quick-kicking on the upcoming season (necessary as it may or may not turn out to be).

    That said, I’m a glass-half-full guy almost always & I still look forward to the season & going to baseball games. Otherwise, for me, there’s just no point in paying attention.

    So, for no good reason (other than I had to make this list anyway), here’s my 10 albums of the year. (I’ll leave the singles out, mainly because it’s kinda esoteric club fare that you’ll rarely hear before midnight anyway.)

    Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires: “Dereconstructed”

    Ex Hex: “Rips”

    Sturgill Simpson: “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music”

    TV on the Radio: “Seeds”

    Wankelmut: “Wankelmoods, Vol. 2”

    Bob Mould: “Beauty & Ruin”

    Drive-By Truckers: “English Oceans”

    Basement Jaxx: “Junto”

    Centro-Matic: “Take Pride in Your Long Odds”

    Todd Terje: “It’s Album Time”

    ***Feel free to Spotify, people!***

    And Happy New Year, y’all!

  56. He gave up pursuing any kind of public persona as an internet writer in favor of being a weird troll on Twitter.

  57. @70 Thanks for the music, ububba. Getting into Bob Mould right now. Awesome!!

    Obviously, 2015 does not look promising for the Braves and I really, really, really dislike AJP. Still looking forward to the season. Go Braves.

  58. A HELLUVA HELLUVA HELLUVA HELLUVA HELLUVA ENGINEER!
    LIKE ALL THE JOLLY GOOD FELLOWS, I DRINK ME WHISKEY CLEAR…

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