Bethancourt looked to have an outside chance to start the 2013 season on the Opening Day roster to serve as the backup to Gerald Laird with Brian McCann out until at least mid-April . Then the Braves acquired Matt Pagnozzi. And now Evan Gattis has seen more playing time at catcher this spring–the position he started in the minors before being switched to left field last season. The little chance he had has gone away.
It’s easy to see why the Braves built up their depth at the catcher position before the season begins. Bethancourt is simply not MLB ready from an offensive standpoint. He has posted a .133 batting average and .235 on-base percentage in 15 at-bats this spring. Meanwhile, both Pagnozzi and Gattis have gotten more at-bats and posted better numbers in basically every offensive category.
As a competitor, Bethancourt will likely be disappointed to not make the roster but should view it with a positive outlook. Serving as a backup catcher for a few weeks would just mean less at-bats. That makes it impossible to gain any momentum or rhythm at the plate. Going to the minors will allow him to play everyday to get those at-bats and improve his approach.
And it’s important he does improve at the plate. The 21-year-old looked certain to take over the starting catcher in 2014 with McCann set to hit free agency after this season. However, Gattis continues to turn heads this spring with his bat, and the Braves seem comfortable with his defense at the position. It’s easier to be comfortable with his defense when he posts a .391 average and staggering 1.169 OPS. This could set up an intriguing competition as the 2014 season rolls around, which makes 2013 a big year in Bethancourt’s development.
There is a reason that MLB.com rates Bethancourt as the No. 2 prospect in the organization. He shows great athleticism behind the plate and has one of the best arms in the minors. Defensively, he has all the tools to become an elite catcher. Offensively, he needs to refine his game. That comes with more at-bats and more time.