Bethancourt's future in Atlanta remains murky
GM Coppolella says club not giving up on 24-year-old catcher
ATLANTA -- The manner in which the Braves used catcher Christian Bethancourt -- or more appropriately, didn't use him -- in 2015 provides reason to question his future in Atlanta.
Bethancourt lost his role as Atlanta's starter less than two weeks into the season, then returned to the Majors in late August with the understanding he'd serve as the primary catcher.
But that plan was scrapped after about a week, when the Braves decided they'd rather pay A.J. Pierzynski more money than to give Bethancourt a chance to develop for a team out of the postseason race.
When Pierzynski opted to re-sign last week, it was revealed that the plan was for him to split time next season. But it remains to be seen whether Pierzynski will share the catching role again with Bethancourt, a 24-year-old who has seen the value of his rocket arm overshadowed by physical and mental mistakes behind the plate.
"There is so much talent and tools there [with Bethancourt], you have to let it play out," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We'll see it where it goes, but we haven't given up on Christian Bethancourt."
If Atlanta opts to bring Bethancourt back, it might take some time before he believes the club is still as confident in him as it was during his days as a highly regarded prospect.
When the Braves gave Pierzynski the starting role in the middle of April, they could justify saying he gave them a better chance to win. But when Bethancourt returned from the Minors on Aug. 24 and lost his starting role again in early September, the Braves essentially made it clear that they no longer necessarily viewed Bethancourt as their future catcher.
A sore knee sidelined Bethancourt for portions of the final two weeks. But it was telling that he served as Atlanta's starting catcher in just 14 of 38 games after he was recalled in August.
"This is a very talented guy with a lot of skills," Braves president of baseball operations John Hart said. "It just hasn't happened yet. So there is the unknown. I think Bethancourt will be better equipped to compete [in 2016]."
While there have always been doubts about Bethancourt's offensive capabilities, there wasn't much reason to anticipate the defensive concerns that have developed.
Bethancourt has been charged with 14 passed balls through his first 73 games as a big league catcher, one for every 44.07 innings. To put it in perspective, Tyler Flowers has a 80.41 innings-per-passed ball ratio while compiling a Major League-high 24 passed balls since the start of the 2014 season.
However, Bethancourt's arm has lived up his reputation as he has retired 40 percent of attempted basestealers. Yadier Molina, Wilson Ramos and Russell Martin are the only other catchers who have a better caught-stealing percentage while catching at least 600 innings since the start of 2014.
Still, as the Braves evaluate Bethancourt's future, they remain concerned about his ability to improve his glove work and make the natural progression toward becoming a better game caller.
"Defensively is what we were really looking at," Hart said. "We've got a young pitching staff. I think the message has been delivered to this guy that [calling a game] is a big part of what you have to do."