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Bethancourt hopes to reach potential in SD

Once a top prospect in Atlanta, catcher seeks backup role with Padres
MLB.com @FollowThePadres

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Christian Bethancourt might be one of the most intriguing players in the Padres' camp this spring.

Not just because the catcher was once -- and not that long ago -- a highly regarded catcher, teeming with upside and potential.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Christian Bethancourt might be one of the most intriguing players in the Padres' camp this spring.

Not just because the catcher was once -- and not that long ago -- a highly regarded catcher, teeming with upside and potential.

But also because the Padres won't carry three catchers on the Opening Day roster and Bethancourt's mere presence complicates the catching picture.

• Padres Spring Training: Tickets | Schedule | Information

Will Bethancourt, 24, do enough in camp to win the backup job to Derek Norris?

If so, does Austin Hedges head back to the Minor Leagues for more seasoning?

Will Bethancourt, who is out of Minor League options, do enough the next five weeks to stick on the roster?

Questions certainly abound, though it's clear general manager A.J. Preller and manager Andy Green want to evaluate Bethancourt this spring to see what they have -- and could have.

"This guy has a ton of raw ability. He's 24 years old with a ton of upside and ton of work ahead of him, and we are going to help him embrace that work and be part of this team," Green said.

Bethancourt, who was obtained in December from the Braves for pitcher Casey Kelly, opened last season as Atlanta's starting catcher, but lost the job two weeks into the season. He returned in August but started just 14 of the last 38 games of the year, leading many to believe the Braves had moved on from him.

While Bethancourt has a strong arm, the Braves reportedly weren't happy with his passed balls (14 in his first 73 big league games) and his pitch calling.

With the Padres, Bethancourt gets a fresh start. He when he reported to camp this week -- following a visa delay from his native Panama -- he didn't walk into the home clubhouse in Peoria to see a room that was filled with strangers.

In January, hitting coach Alan Zinter and Minor League coordinator of instruction, Ryley Westman, who works with catchers, spent three days in Panama getting to know Bethancourt, while also watching him play winter ball there.

"It was a really good experience. It gave us an opportunity to meet the person. He is a young kid and we wanted to deliver a message that this is a fresh start and we want him to be comfortable with who we were," Zinter said. "We wanted to let him know we care about what he brings to the table."

Bethancourt is a .219/.245/.283 hitter in his first 278 plate appearances in the big leagues, though he's fared better in the Minors, hitting .275/.306/.388. The belief is that he'll be better moving forward defensively, too.

Bethancourt had minor surgery after the season to clean up the meniscus in his left knee. The knee bothered him last season, though he's not willing to peg his woes on the injury.

"The pain was there the whole time, but I'm not going to blame it on that. I've got to play well," he said.

He'll have to do so quickly, making a favorable impression on the front office and coaching staff if he's to make the team.

"There's a very good player in there, a very good skill set, a bright young man. He's done a lot of work to get where he's at," Zinter said.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

San Diego Padres, Christian Bethancourt