Coming into the 2016 season the San Diego Padres had two catchers that were seemingly more than capable of being the starter for the 2016 season. Derek Norris was the returning backstop and young Austin Hedges had looked to be progressing enough offensively to be under consideration as well.
Early in the off-season the team claimed Josmil Pinto from the Minnesota Twins and with that began A.J. Preller’s obsession with catchers. Pinto only last a matter of days with the team as he was DFA’d when the Padres obtained Christian Bethancourt from the Atlanta Braves for Casey Kelly. Bethancourt is a Hedges type of player, he has above average defensive skills while his bat traditionaly had been a work in progress.
With the acquisition of Bethancourt (who has no minor league options), rumors began swirling that the Padres would deal one of their catchers. Derek Norris made sense as he had the most value at the time, but nothing ever came to fruition. Hedges who had minor league options was demoted to El Paso and Bethancourt was kept as the back-up to Norris.
In El Paso Hedges looked to be continuing his emergence with the bat, but broke the hamate bone in his right wrist and is currently on the D.L. Hector Sanchez was claimed a couple of weeks back from the White Sox and the Padres are playing with three catchers on their 25-man roster. Three catchers is not a typical move made by managers, so one has to think it is only a matter of time before a deal is made.
Norris has been in a horrible offensive slump and in reality that is what is probably holding up the whole situation. I like Derek Norris very much. He is a great leader behind the plate. In my opinion the Padres like Hedges and Bethancourt better. Both players have unreal defensive skills and the Padres are embracing defense in their philosophy. The San Diego Padres would be perfectly happy having Hedges and Bethancourt be their catching duo for the next few seasons.
The fact the Padres have worked Bethancourt at third base and in the outfield tells me that they are falling in love with his bat too. The young catcher has a great deal of power. If given enough at bats he could easily hit 20 home runs in a season. He does have strike out issues that come along with that prestigious power. If he can recognize off speed pitches better and also improve his two-strike approach he could be an offensive force behind the plate. You really see the ability in Bethancourt and you have to wonder what the Braves were doing in moving the young backstop.
If Bethancourt is the future, or part of it behind the plate, why is he not starting on most days? Simple answer. Derek Norris’ trade value is so low right now that he needs at bats. Norris is a great offensive player. His sub .180 batting average dictates that he will catch fire sooner or later. The game of baseball is a game about the law of averages. If a player is hitting .500 to start the season, he can expect a cold spell. The same goes for an established hitter who starts off slow. At one time a few weeks ago Norris was the statistical leader in velocity of the bat. He is hitting the ball hard, they are just not finding the holes. When Norris starts to hit, then teams will come sniffing around the Padres looking for a deal. The catchers position is very weak around all of MLB and the Padres have depth at the position.
Christian Bethancourt is an exciting player to watch. There is no doubt about that. He could be a very special player. Unfortunately for the time being he is going to only get sporadic playing time. I don’t see him being able to make the adjustment to the outfield or third base at this stage of the season. Perhaps if they worked him in spring at either position it would be a different story.
For now he and Hector Sanchez will get limited at bats and time behind the dish. We all know Derek Norris hates days off. Bethancourt will have his time. Norris needs to play and A.J. Preller needs to be very active in the next few months. Things will change with this Padres team as Andy Green tries to develop his system of play. Stay tuned Padres fans, this will still be an exciting summer. There is depth on the Padres 25-man roster and the team will surely make a move or two towards the future. A.J. Preller is not one to let a good opportunity pass him by.