Lane: Bethancourt can succeed as pitcher/hitter hybrid

Former Padre played outfield before moving to the mound

November 18th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- No doubt, the Padres' offseason plans for are ambitious.

A lifelong catcher, Bethancourt is slated to play winter ball in his native Panama, as he begins his transition to an unprecedented utility role. Bethancourt will spend time at catcher, he'll spend time in the outfield, and -- here's where things get interesting -- he's going to pitch.

Count former Friar Jason Lane among those who believe the Padres' plan can work. And Lane would know better than most.

In 2002, Lane broke into the big leagues as an outfielder. He batted .241/.314/.457 in seven seasons with Houston, but struggled at the end of his tenure. Lane toiled away in the Minor Leagues until '12, when he transitioned to the mound.

In 2014, Lane returned to the big leagues with the Padres. He made three appearances -- one start -- and allowed one run over 10 1/3 innings. At the Major League level, Lane never got the chance to serve in Bethancourt's super-utility role. But he did so in the Minors and feels it can translate.

"I think it's definitely feasible," Lane, now the assistant hitting coach for the Brewers, told "It takes the right mentality, and it takes the right abilities. ... But absolutely it's doable, especially when you have velocity like that. It's definitely intriguing."

Twice this year, Bethancourt entered in mop-up duty, tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings. His season ended in August when he suffered an oblique strain, but he began throwing bullpen sessions upon his recovery.

Bethancourt's fastball sits in the mid-90s, and his changeup is reportedly progressing faster than expected. He's learning a slider, too, but that pitch remains in its infancy.

"He's a different deal than what I had, because he's got that velocity," Lane said. "He has some room for error, where you don't have to be as fine. ... If he can hone that in, he's got some power as a right-handed hitter off the bench. You've got a weapon there. ... In the National League, it adds huge flexibility to your roster."

That's exactly what the Padres were going for when they approached Bethancourt with the idea in September. He was very receptive to it, but his pitching mechanics needed to be fine-tuned.

In Lane's eyes, that's where things get tricky. Most Major League pitchers get years of seasoning. And learning to pitch isn't exactly something you can cram for.

"If you don't already have a good feel for pitching, you can only work on it so much per day," Lane said. "... You only have so many bullets."

After a handful of bullpen sessions, the Padres gave Bethancourt the OK to pitch for Caballos de Cocle in Panama. In coordination with the Padres, Caballos devised a plan for his usage, which includes catching, playing the outfield and pitching.

"The hardest part for me, initially, was recovery," Lane said. "It took me like a full year to figure out the right routine for my arm to recover. Once I got through my first full season of that, then I was good to go. Then it actually made me better as a hitter. Having pitched for a full year, now you know both sides of it."

Lane understands the perceived downside.

Hitting is tough enough on its own. Pitching is tough enough on its own. Both? Seemingly impossible.

Not in Lane's eyes. In fact, he claims that understanding how to pitch ultimately made him better at the plate. With Triple-A El Paso in 2014, Lane finished 9-9 with a 4.52 ERA, while batting .362, mostly as a pinch-hitter.

"I don't think one took away from the other at all," Lane said. "I could've absolutely done it, and I probably could've done it earlier in my career. It just seemed like, 'There's no way it could be done at the big league level. You have to be one or the other.'

"If you're an All-Star caliber position player hitting in the middle of the lineup, I don't think they're going to mess around. ... But if it's a utility-type guy, it's definitely possible. It just takes a unique player who's wanting and willing to do it."

Is Bethancourt that kind of unique player? The Padres believe he is.

It won't be long until they find out.