The Brewers have signed catcher Christian Bethancourt to a minor-league contract with an invitation to major-league spring training, per a club announcement Monday.
Bethancourt, who was once one of the top catching prospects in baseball as a member of the Braves organization, worked as a two-way player for the past two seasons as a member of the Padres. After he showed off a fastball that touched 96 mph during a blowout in May 2016, the Padres began exploring the possibility of using him as a reliever, and the experiment was a full go by spring 2017, as San Diego concocted a plan for Bethancourt to pitch out of the bullpen, pinch hit, serve as an emergency catcher, and provide extra depth at the corner outfield spots.
But after four disastrous April outings during which he posted a 14.73 ERA and issued eight walks, two wild pitches, and six hits over 3.2 innings, Bethancourt was outrighted to Triple-A El Paso with an organizational request to work on his pitching mechanics. Over 34 outings for the Chihuahuas, including one start, Bethancourt posted an 8.21 ERA and 1.99 WHIP while walking 33 batters, hitting five, throwing two wild pitches, and striking out just 23 over 41.2 innings.
Bethancourt will return to catching with the Brewers, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday. He’s long been regarded as a strong defender at that position, though he’s struggled to achieve the offensive consistency necessary to remain in the majors, posting a .222/.252/.316 career slash line with eight homers in 489 big-league plate appearances.
The Brewers already have five catchers on the 40-man roster — Manny Pina, Stephen Vogt, Jett Bandy, and Andrew Susac, all of whom played in the majors last year, as well as prospect Jacob Nottingham — so Bethancourt’s odds of making their Opening Day roster are slim, and even his odds of getting steady playing time in Triple-A are questionable. With that said, three of those catchers battling for the backup job behind Pina — Vogt, Bandy, and Susac — have no minor-league options remaining, so it makes sense for Milwaukee to add extra depth behind the plate in case they lose one or more of those players on waivers at the end of spring training.