Phillies bring back catcher Christian Bethancourt on minor-league deal

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Blake Parker (left) talks with catcher Christian Bethancourt (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Blake Parker (left) talks with catcher Christian Bethancourt (Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phillies have re-signed Christian Bethancourt on a minor-league deal.

Just one day after Philadelphia Phillies manager Joe Girardi expressed concern that the organization was thin at having Major League-ready catchers, they re-signed veteran Christian Bethancourt on Tuesday to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp, according to The Athletic’s Matt Gelb.

Bethancourt’s first stint with the Phillies began late last December, when he signed a similar minor-league deal with a spring invite. Prior to this past season, the 29-year-old played 161 games across parts of five seasons with the Atlanta Braves (2014-15) and San Diego Padres (2016-17).

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Bethancourt has not appeared in the majors since 2017; with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate in 2018, he was named an All-Star and slashed .297/.328/.506 with 22 doubles, 20 home runs and 71 RBI over 104 games. In 2019, Bethancourt hit .246 with eight home runs and 29 RBI in 53 games in Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) action, but was released mid-season.

In 2020, Bethancourt was kept away from the team at the onset of summer camp — along with ace Aaron Nola and outfielder Adam Haseley — due to him either testing positive for COVID-19, showing symptoms, coming in contact with an infected person, or having missing or inconclusive test results. He ultimately fell behind J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp, Rafael Marchan, and Deivy Grullon on the organization’s depth chart for catchers, and never got a big-league look.

Most recently, Bethancourt has played in 2020-21 Liga Profesional de República Dominicana action; Spanning 15 games for the Estrellas Orientales, he has slashed just .185/.214/.296 with three doubles, one home run, five RBI, two walks, and 15 strikeouts spanning 54 at-bats.

While the Panama native is a career .222/.252/.316 hitter in the majors with 20 doubles, eight home runs, 46 RBI, 18 walks, and 119 strikeouts over 161 games and 489 plate appearances, he is more so notable for having experience playing not only the catcher position, but also left field and right field, as well as second base. The Phillies have always leaned toward players with versatility in recent seasons, and it appears that trend continues under new team president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski.

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Bethancourt made his big-league debut on September 29, 2013, against the Phillies — a pinch-hit appearance in which he struck out. Six years ago, Bethancourt was considered among the Braves’ top prospects, having been ranked by Baseball America as the 69th best prospect overall entering the 2014 season, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman.

Bethancourt is now the Phillies’ second veteran minor-league signee of the offseason, joining fellow returnee, infielder Ronald Torreyes.

By no means does Bethancourt’s signing mean he is a shoo-in to back up Knapp as the team’s starting catcher in 2021. If anything it means the Phillies are creating spring training competition for Marchan. Re-signing Realmuto remains among the club’s top offseason goals.

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