Shortly after shedding one of their catching depth options, the Pirates added another backstop on a Minor League deal.
Free agent Christian Bethancourt was signed to a Minor League contract by the Pirates on Saturday. Bethancourt last played in the Major Leagues in 2017, when he played eight games for the Padres. Overall, he’s hit .222/.252/.316 with 20 doubles and eight homers in 161 games.
Bethancourt was a Top 100 prospect in the Braves organization, as he was last ranked No. 82 in 2014. His 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame gives him some power potential, which he flashed in 2018 with 20 homers at Triple-A Colorado Springs, but the 29-year-old’s high evaluations as a prospect were largely centered on his excellent defensive games.
In 2016, his last full season in the Majors, he led MLB catchers in average throwing speed at 87.7 mph. Bethancourt was also tied for second in catcher poptime -- the elapsed time between a pitch hitting the catcher’s mitt and the projected moment the intended fielder is expected to field the ball -- at 1.91 seconds that season, trailing only Gary Sánchez (1.9 seconds).
Bethancourt is expected to join Triple-A Indianapolis as it opens its season on Tuesday in Iowa.
On Friday, the Pirates released catcher Christian Kelley, who signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers the next day. The club lost another depth option when they released Tony Wolters at the end of spring camp. Wolters joined the division-rival Cubs soon after and has served as the backup to Willson Contreras.
Feliz was sent to the injured list on April 16 with a cracked nail on his right middle finger. The right-handed reliever, who has allowed three runs (two earned) in 5 2/3 innings this season, was able to pitch through the injury for a while, but the team decided it was best to get him some rest.
Poppen, a length option out of the Pirates’ bullpen, allowed five runs (two earned) in the ninth inning of the club’s 12-5 loss to the Cardinals on Saturday.
Manager Derek Shelton said that Jacob Stallings was not out of Monday’s lineup against the Padres for injury reasons. Stallings was grazed in the face by a 97 mph fastball from Carlos Martínez in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Cardinals, but he stayed in the game.
“He was only going to catch two of these three games,” Shelton said of Stallings. “And then after [being plunked] yesterday -- not only getting hit in the face, but blocking a lot of those balls -- it just felt like the right time to get him off his feet and give him a little bit of a blow. He looked good today, was moving around.”
Shelton said Ke’Bryan Hayes is continuing to swing the bat with soft-toss pitching. Hayes was set back by an aggravation of his left wrist discomfort on April 23, and the Pirates decided to keep him with the team on the six-game road trip as he works his way back.
“Every day you see him around, it's a reminder of how special of a kid he is and we just have to make sure that we work to get him back,” Shelton said.
Chad Kuhl resumed throwing this weekend after being sent to the 10-day injured list on April 22 with right shoulder discomfort. Kuhl is not expected to return to action this week, as Wil Crowe was listed as the Friday probable in Kuhl’s normal spot in the rotation.
“I talked to Chad a little while ago and he said his catch play was really good today, so that's very encouraging,” Shelton said.