The Brewers announced that they’ve signed catcher Christian Bethancourt to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. The 26-year-old former top prospect has been with the Padres organization for the past two seasons after spending his first seven-plus seasons with the Braves organization.
San Diego sought to convert Bethancourt, whose 80-grade arm has long been considered his best tool, from a catcher into a relief pitcher over the past two seasons, though the results of that experiment were less than favorable. Bethancourt’s fastball was capable of reaching the upper 90s, but he never demonstrated much ability to locate his pitches. The 2017 campaign was his long season spent primarily as a pitcher, and it produced an unsightly 8.21 ERA with 5.0 K/9 against 7.1 BB/9 in 41 2/3 innings of Triple-A ball last season.
The Brewers, however, announced Bethancourt as a catcher, so it seems they’ll focus on him as a depth option behind the dish rather than on the mound. Bethancourt is a lifetime .298/.326/.437 hitter in parts of three Triple-A seasons (601 plate appearances) but has batted just .222/.252/.316 over the life of 489 PAs at the MLB level. He’s had some significant trouble with passed balls (19 in 940 MLB innings as a catcher), though his exceptional arm has helped him to throw out 35 percent of would-be base thieves in the Majors and 37 percent over the course of his minor league tenure.
Milwaukee presently has Manny Pina, who had a breakout season in 2017, and veteran Stephen Vogt atop its catching depth chart with Andrew Susac and Jett Bandy as 40-man options beyond that pairing. As such, Bethancourt will have a difficult time cracking the big league roster out of camp, though it’s certainly conceivable that he could reach the Majors at some point during the 2018 campaign should injuries or poor performances from the options ahead of him open a path to at-bats.