The scene: the Padres, who are not very good at baseball, were losing 16-4 in the 8th inning to the Mariners. James Shields had gotten truly rocked, and Luis Perdomo got rocked straight after him. So, unsurprisingly, manager Andy Green went to a position player to pitch, so that the bullpen would be spared further usage. Barely anyone outside San Diego or Seattle was paying attention to the game at this point. But upon hearing that Christian Bethancourt would get a chance to pitch, the game became just a little more fun. If only we knew just how fun it would become.
Bethancourt had already caught and played left field in this game. He is a roundly uninspiring hitter but has value behind the plate. He is a sturdy receiver and has a good arm for throwing out baserunners. Therefore, it wasn't entirely surprising when he reeled off 92 MPH for his first pitch. Most position players hit only the 80s, but Bethancourt has made a living off having a good arm. He would go as high as 96 MPH on the radar gun.
He would go as low as 53 MPH.
Bethancourt reeled off what was identified as a 53 MPH knuckleball. It had the movement of a lazy looping curve, or even an eephus, and started at the top of Seth Smith's head and landed right in the middle of the strike zone. Bethancourt also fiddled around with a mid-80's changeup, because why not. As the inning went on, he was actually shaking off catcher Hector Sanchez to get to the pitch he wanted.
If you're looking for a "scouting report," let me put my player evaluation cap on for a second.
Now, let's get a few things straight. Despite his ugly career batting statistics, Bethancourt does do one thing well, and that's hit monster homers.
He hits the ball far and knows how to drop the bat with a more than appropriate amount of swagger. That's 70-grade execution on that homer out to Waveland. It's the kind of power that makes awful contact skills and good catcher defense palatable. But then, Bethancourt had to go out and throw 96 MPH on the mound like it was nothing. Why not move Bethancourt to the bullpen?
The Padres are in a rather unique position to tinker with a player like this. As stated above, the Padres are pretty bad right now. They have time to move a catcher to a different position by shipping him off to the minors to work with a pitching coach. They're also already carrying two other backstops (Sanchez and Derek Norris) and basically have a second Bethancourt. Former top prospect Austin Hedges, stashed at Triple-A, is a defensive wizard with little bat to speak of. San Diego could bring him up if they insist on carrying three catchers or could go the traditional route of carrying two with Norris and Sanchez and try to get Hedges to squeeze a bit more out of his bat in Triple-A.
Bethancourt already got moved out of one organization (the Braves) due to his disappointing bat. His framing, per Baseball Prospectus' framing metrics, isn't anything to write home about. The occasional massive dinger doesn't merit his presence behind the plate. Why not try to see if he can throw gas for strikes as a reliever?
There are probably many answers to that question, and most of them involve "You'e an overly excited fool, Nick." But I just watched a catcher throw 96 MPH for a strike and then throw a 53 MPH knuckleball for a strike, so, you know, humor me. Baseball is fun and, every now and then, you see something that makes you feel like a giddy child in a batting cage for the first time. It's not every day that a catcher takes the mound and almost looks like he knows what he's doing.
Christian Bethancourt did. And damn, it was cool.
Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also writes for Baseball Prospectus and BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.