Christian Bethancourt is an anomaly in today's game. Who might follow in his footsteps?
Christian Bethancourt made his 2017 Cactus League debut yesterday, going one inning and allowing no hits and no runs, while touching 96 mph. Well, that was his pitching debut; on Monday he made his hitting debut, starting at DH and going 0-for-1 with a walk. Welcome to the brave new world where the Padres are preparing the same player to be their backup catcher, fifth outfielder, and a key middle reliever, all at the same time.
Once upon a time, in the Atlanta system, Bethancourt was a good catching prospect. He ranked as high as 87th on our top 101 prospect list before 2014, always hitting a little and flashing a rocket arm that caused scouts to project him as a high-end major league defender. It turned out that defensive projection missed that Bethancourt is a poor pitch framer, aggregating -7.3 FRAA in about a full season’s worth of playing time over the past three seasons between Atlanta and San Diego. He’s also hit a meager .223/.253/.318 in that time span, and while he’s only 25 and catcher development can be weird, conventionally speaking Christian Bethancourt is perilously close to being no more than fringe backup. Except he still has that rocket arm...
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From Buster Posey to Christian Bethancourt, this list is loaded with both big leaguers and high-upside prospects.
Because dynasty league rankings are relatively league dependent, I set up parameters for ranking the players below (and the ones who will follow at other positions). The list here presupposes a 16-team standard dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. Feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2014 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or league–only formats.
The catcher position is a tricky one, as there are a lot of players at or near the top of the list who may be playing another position in three or so years. That, plus with most leagues using one active catcher, prospects are featured a little more prominently due to both the major-league depth right now and the fact that there are diminishing returns to carrying too many backstops.
A look at the young backstops working their way through the pipeline and what they might one day bring to your fantasy squad.
Ah, catching prospects. The sirens of the fantasy prospecting world. One look at those among the current crop of backstops who qualify as “fantasy relevant” will make any owner yearn for more talent and a deeper pool of names, which makes these minor leaguers even more attractive. After all, the average triple-slash line for all catchers in the majors was .245/.310/.344. How hard can it be for the next wave of catchers to top that?
The answer, of course, is very hard. The path to MLB catching stardom is fraught with more perils than the trek to any other position, and patience, above all else, is a virtue when courting young catching talent. Fast movers like Buster Posey are extreme outliers. Good overall players like Mike Zunino get overrated in fantasy circles. And offense-first names like Jesus Montero see their deficiencies ignored as we instead focus on the potential for future excellence.
The Braves call up a glove-first catcher of the future with the offensive potential to be an everyday guy.
The Situation: With an NL East crown all but officially secured, the Braves have called up top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt to give him a taste of major-league life. While Atlanta already has three capable catchers on its roster, Bethancourt should still get a few in-game looks this month as the club begins to evaluate its potential 2014 catching corps. Perennial All-Star backstop Brian McCann appears set to test the free-agent waters this offseason, and while Evan Gattis and Gerald Laid will remain under team control, Bethancourt is considered the Braves’ catcher of the future. If McCann is wearing another uniform next season, Bethancourt’s readiness––or lack thereof––will play a key role in determining what the club does behind the plate in 2014. The Braves could potentially acquire a stopgap to give Bethancourt a year in Triple-A, rely on the Gattis/Laird combo, or roll with the 22-year-old prospect.
In the debut edition of this column, Ben breaks down the future dynasty-league value of five minor leaguers, including one backstop and four first basemen.
The majority of fantasy baseball players on the planet only need to worry about a pool of 300-400 major leaguers. The world is filled with normal people who just want to fill out a starting lineup with household names, make a few savvy pickups, and beat the competition to a promising youngster or two as the season progresses.
A look at the prospects who stood out during the past weekend.
Games of Friday, August 9
Pitching Prospect of the Day: Tanner Peters, RHP, Athletics (High-A Stockton): 8.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 14 K. Peters has a fastball that works in the upper 80s/low 90s with good command, a potential plus changeup, and a developing curveball. He may not be the brightest prospect, but a start like this is impressive.