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Braves prospect retrospect: Christian Bethancourt

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Lets take a look back at the bizarre career of the Atlanta Braves one-time catching prospect.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Remember when Christian Bethancourt was the catcher of the Atlanta Braves future? Remember years later when he was moved to the bullpen by the San Diego Padres?

The life and times of Bethancourt were definitely interesting. Let’s continue our stroll down Braves’ memory lane and take a look back at the once-promising prospect’s career.

Christian Bethancourt, top 100 prospect

The Braves signed Bethancourt at the age of 16 out of Panama in 2008. He began a slow climb up the ladder that same year, spending 34 games in the Dominican Summer League before splitting 2009 between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues. He reached Rome in 2010, but it was his breakout 2011 season that put him on the map.

Split between Rome and High-A Lynchburg, Bethancourt hit .289/.304/.385 with 16 doubles, five home runs and 53 RBI. He was invited to the Arizona Fall League where his hot hitting continued. The 19-year-old hit .306 in 19 games with Surprise and hit as many home runs as he did in the regular season. It earned him All-Prospect Team honors and heading into 2012, he was a top-100 prospect.

That 2012 season started a run of three-straight MLB Futures Games appearances for Bethancourt and he was quickly becoming a household name. He spent two seasons with Mississippi, and in his second run in 2013, he found some pop in his bat, belting a career-high 21 doubles and 12 home runs. He’d appear in one game with the Braves in 2013 and strike out in his only at bat.

Momentum was building. Bethancourt’s name was frequently mentioned amongst the Braves’ top prospects, the best catching prospects in baseball, and top-100 lists from numerous sources. He entered 2014 a consensus top-100 prospect ranked as high as No. 69 by Baseball America.

The 2014 season saw Bethancourt open the season in Gwinnett and play 31 games with the Atlanta club while fellow backstop Evan Gattis was out with injury. It wasn’t the best showing, but nothing compared to 2015.

Bethancourt struggles behind the plate

Now 23 years old, Bethancourt opened the season with the Braves, expected to be their everyday catcher. While it was certainly no help that 38-year-old A.J. Pierzynski discovered the fountain of youth and had one of the best years of his career, Bethancourt did himself no favors.

Simply put, the young backstop ever got it going. By the end of April he was hitting .135 with a .369 OPS and finished the season with an abysmal .200/.225/.290 slash line. But where Bethancourt truly struggled was behind the plate.

The positive was that Bethancourt threw out 45 percent of attempted base stealers, nabbing nine of the 20 who tried. By mid-June he was amongst the league leaders in passed balls (with six) and errors despite only playing in 29 games. He also ranked 66th out of 82 qualifiers in Catchers’s ERA (4.50), according to ESPN Stats. He was sent down to work on things and rejoined the club later that season. He finished the season playing 42 games and finished fourth in the NL in passed balls. Every other catcher in the top 5 played at least 108 games.

That offseason, the Braves — who were out of options on Bethancourt — sent him to San Diego for Casey Kelly and Ricardo Rodriguez.

Christian Bethancourt, five years later

Bethancourt’s struggles continued with the Padres in 2016. He played more regularly, but hit just .228 with six home runs in 73 games. He cut down on the passed balls and errors, but also began the shift to the outfield. By 2017, he was coming out of the bullpen.

In a bizarre twist, Bethancourt, who grew up a third baseman before moving behind the plate, switched to pitching. As a reliever for El Paso in 2017, he appeared in 34 games and posted a 8.21 ERA with a 1.92 WHIP. He made four appearances with the Padres, recording a 14.73 ERA.

That was where the big-league career of Bethancourt ended. He continued to play, appearing in Korea and even signing with the Philadelphia Phillies this past spring. He was listed on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs roster as a catcher before the season was canceled.

The rise and fall of Christian Bethancourt was certainly one of highs and lows. Still a mere 28 years of age, he’s hoping there’s one more chapter in his MLB story.

Don’t forget to keep up with the Talking Chop retrospect series. Here’s who we’ve looked at so far in our Braves prospect retrospect series.