If it seems that Christian Bethancourt has been the Atlanta Braves' "catcher of the future" forever, you aren't that far off. Signed out of Panama as a 16-year-old in 2007, Bethancourt has been on the radar of scouts for the past four seasons as one of the most talented catching prospects in baseball, with many believing that he was likely Brian McCann's heir apparent when McCann left for New York.
That future is now -- sort of -- as Bethancourt has been called up to replace the injured Evan Gattis for at least the next two weeks. And while Bethancourt is known more for his glove than his bat, the right-handed hitting backstop isn't bereft of ability at the plate, either.
"There's offensive upside there," an AL Central scout said. "He's not going to be the next Mike Piazza or anything like that, but when you watch him take batting practice, you see a guy that's not just about the glove. The defense is going to be why he makes his money, and that offense hasn't shown up really in games, but I still believe he can be an above-average offensive catcher in time."
In batting practice before games, Bethancourt will show plus power, thanks in large part to a very strong lower half with quality hip rotation and a natural loft to his swing. He also has the ability to hit line drives to all parts of the field, and his hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills allow him to make quality contact while rarely striking out, as seen in the fact that he's never struck out more than 62 times in a professional season.
One of the reasons he's never struck out that much, however, is that Bethancourt rarely gets to two strikes, as his discipline at the plate is essentially nonexistent. Too often, he will give at-bats away because of his aggressiveness, and his lack of selectivity also makes his power play down.
"You can't put up big power numbers if you're just up there hacking," an AL West scout said. "Even your most aggressive power hitters are going to draw 40-50 walks a season, bare minimum. You need to be in those 2-0, 3-1 counts to get pitches to drive, and so far there just hasn't been any reason or way for him to put himself into those counts."
Yet there are still plenty of reasons to stay optimistic about Bethancourt's chances of becoming a quality big league catcher. He's only 22 years old, and while you can't expect him to be Adam Dunn, we have seen plenty of hitters improve their walk rates as they mature. And because his defense is so good -- he may have the strongest throwing arm of any catcher in baseball and he's already an above-average receiver -- he'll get the opportunity to improve. There's a chance he'll become a .270 hitter who can give you 12 to 18 homers a year, and maybe more if he gives pitchers a reason to throw him fastballs in hitter's counts.
For this year, Bethancourt likely is at best a second catcher in NL-only leagues, but there is still reason to believe he's a first-division catcher who can start for your mixed-league fantasy team in the next few years. If he's on the waiver wire, or if a team in your league has grown frustrated waiting, you should see what you can do to make him part of your keeper league team.
There are two new names in this week's top 10, and once again we have a new name at the top of the list.