The Braves and Padres have announced a trade that will send catcher Christian Bethancourt to San Diego. Going back to Atlanta in the trade are right-hander Casey Kelly and young backstop Ricardo Rodriguez.
Bethancourt, 24, seemed likely to hit the block after the Braves added both A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers in free agency. But it wasn’t long ago that he looked to be a long-term answer behind the dish in Atlanta.
The now-former Braves backstop recently ranked among the game’s top 100 prospects but has had some offensive struggles in his exposure to the Majors and, perhaps more troubling, significant difficulties with passed balls. Scouts have given his arm an 80 (on the 20-80 scale) when evaluating him, so there aren’t major concerns about his throwing. In 278 plate appearances with Atlanta, however, Bethancourt has batted just .219/.245/.283. At the Triple-A level, he’s been far more impressive, hitting .299/.327/.435 in 583 plate appearances across the past two seasons.
Bethancourt further deepens the Padres’ stock of MLB-ready catchers, as the team also has Derek Norris and Austin Hedges in house. All three have been, at times, believed to be starting caliber catching options in the Majors, although only Norris has any sort of track record at the big league level. Hedges, like Bethancourt, is a much-ballyhooed prospect and has drawn rave reviews for his glove but didn’t hit at all in his 2015 debut, slashing .168/.215/.248 in 152 trips to the plate with San Diego. Bethancourt, though, is out of minor league options, which could give him the inside track on Hedges for making the roster in 2016.
Turning to the Braves’ return, the 26-year-old Kelly is a former Top 100 prospect himself, from 2010-13, who has seen his once-promising career slowed dramatically by injuries (including Tommy John surgery). He’ll join a stable of young, at-or-near MLB arms in the Atlanta organization.
Kelly cracked the majors last year for the first time since 2012, but spent most of the season in the high minors. All told, he permitted 5.16 earned runs per nine with 6.8 K/9 against 3.6 BB/9 over 97 2/3 innings. More importantly, though, he made it through the full season and set himself up to “compete for a spot” on the Braves’ major league roster this spring, per GM John Coppolella.
Rodriguez is a 17-year-old from Venezuela who played last year at the Rookie ball level. He checked in as MLB.com’s 30th-ranked July 2 prospect in the 2014-15 international signing period and rated even higher (#21) on the Baseball America board (subscription required). Obviously he’s a long ways from the majors, but Rodriguez seems at least to have some promise as a player.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported the deal was in the works (Twitter link). Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted it was nearing completion. Sherman tweeted that Kelly had been discussed. ESPN’s Jayson Stark previously reported (Twitter link) that the Padres had interest in Bethancourt.