After plenty of rumors swirling about the San Diego Padres using their backup catcher, Christian Bethancourt, in a hybrid role next season, the team has now officially come out and indeed confirmed the reports. He will be used in a very exotic role next year. Catching, pitching, and playing the occasional outfield looks to be in the cards for the versatile young man.
The Padres acquired Bethancourt before the start of the 2016 season to back up Derek Norris. He was obtained from the Atlanta Braves in December of 2015 for starting pitcher Casey Kelley and minor league pitcher Ricardo Rodriguez. Kelley never lived up to the hype since he was acquired by the Padres as part of the package from the Boston Red Sox in the Adrian Gonzalez trade.
Bethancourt will indeed pitch in the Panama Winter League the next few months. Reports by Dennis Lin of the UT indicate that Bethancourt is hitting 97 MPH on the radar gun routinely. It is really incredible that Bethancourt has virtually no experience pitching. He never pitched in high school or growing up. With a rocket arm, it is amazing that nobody ever tinkered with this idea before. This hybrid role will be truly unique, and you can be sure that if he is able to make the transition, this story will be picked up nationally to a greater extent.
I recently talked to Doug Bochtler, the Padres current bullpen coach about the young catcher. He told me that Bethancourt’s athleticism is off the charts and he could very easily fill the role on the mound occasionally for the team. He indicated that Bethancourt will rely more on a fastball/change-up combination in 2017. His eephus pitch will be scrapped for the most part and he will not “spin” the ball too often either. That means the team will stay away from Bethancourt utilizing a slider or curveball regularly.
That makes sense, as you do not want to put pressure on his shoulder and elbow. He is just starting out on this pitching endeavor, so the team is naturally going to take it slow. Throwing curves or sliders could result in strain on his arm. It remains to be seen if Bethancourt can really make this transition. He does have a long way to go before he could be considered a reliable member of the bullpen. At this point Bethancourt will be monitored closely, as the team determines what his true future is with the team.
Taking a look at the video below. The man can get the ball to the plate in a hurry. It is a shame that he won’t feature the knuckle-eephus pitch, but that isn’t to say that we will not see it every once in a while. The pitch is devastating, especially when you can back it up with a mid-90s fastball. Learning control and the nuances of pitching will be difficult for Bethancourt. The winter league pitching experience will be vital for his growth as a pitcher.
The fact that he is throwing 97 MPH in recent bullpen sessions is exciting, but it’s not as though Bethancourt doesn’t have serious upside as a major league catcher. He is very good behind the plate and that same rocket arm throws out would-be base stealers with ease. You can’t ignore the fact that the man has value behind the dish. In fact, if the team wasn’t so overloaded with talent at the catcher position, Bethancourt as a pitcher might not even be a thing.
Austin Hedges and Derek Norris are the two starting catchers, and the switch-hitting Hector Sanchez has shown that he too has value. The Padres have four catchers heading into the off-season, when they only need two, maybe three, if Bethancourt can succeed at this hybrid role. Obviously a catcher will be moved, and the obvious candidate is Derek Norris. Stay tuned for that. Preller is surely working on it.
If Christian Bethancourt can indeed flourish in this role as a super utility player, then the Padres will have something very special.
Stay tuned to see if he can stay healthy and still remain focused on his hitting and catching duties. Manager Andy Green will be monitoring the situation closely. He loves versatility when assembling his squad and this new type of role is beyond versatile. Bethancourt has the athletic ability to do this, but the franchise will not ruin his future in the league by having him work on a craft he cannot succeed in. He is still 25 years old and has a decent ceiling as a major league hitter. His bat speed and power tool are above average. Bethancourt drove in 25 runs last year in 193 at bats. He played 73 innings in the outfield last year and looked very comfortable doing so. At the very least, the Padres have a catcher/outfielder, and that is a nice combination in itself.