In our non-roster infield invitee preview, I wrote the following of Yuniesky Betancourt:
Chances of Making Phils out of Spring Training: If there is a higher power and they have mercy, please let this be none.
Chances of Seeing Time with Phils in 2013: See above.
I didn’t write that because I had about 20 players to write about and I was tired as sometimes is the case with concise notes. Instead, I wrote what I felt was all that was warranted at the time. Betancourt was never particularly skilled in any areas (hits for OK average and power, struggles defensively and to get on base), but always managed to find his way on to a Major League roster. In fact, if we’re comfortable no longer pulling punches, Betancourt has been worse than “never particularly skilled”; he’s been particularly “stealth” bad throughout his career, especially recently.
Betancourt’s career triple-slash is .266/.290/.392, which is actually pretty OK for a shortstop. That line is better than Pete Orr‘s .259/.289/.332 and the recently released Andres Blanco‘s .255/.301/.333 MLB lines, and also better than J.J. Hardy, Zack Cozart, Jhonny Peralta, Yunel Escobar, and Mike Aviles‘s 2012 triple-slash lines. All of those MLB regulars, and Orr and Blanco, play at or above league-average defense, however, while Betancourt hasn’t had a positive season according to UZR since 2005.
Betancourt isn’t an offensive standout but he’s not entirely horrible as evident by his career triple-slash numbers and his impressive start to Spring Training (.360/.379/.400 against 8.9 opposing pitching quality in Spring Training). Betancourt is starting again today for the Phils and suddenly has a puncher’s chance to make the team. If you were Charlie Manuel, do you keep him on your Opening Day roster?
The Benefits of Betancourt Making the Phillies
I never thought I would write out the header that precedes this sentence, but I guess there is a first time for everything. Betancourt faces competition to make the team from two sources: Kevin Frandsen and Freddy Galvis. Frandsen had a surprisingly strong 2012 and has a better Spring triple-slash (.355/.375/.742 against 8.9 quality of opposing pitching) with better defense and more position flexibility than Betancourt. Frandsen’s bat at this point is better than both Betancourt and Gavlis and in six years in the Majors, his glove has played nearly even according to UZR. Frandsen should make the club out of Spring Training very easily.
The advantage of taking Betancourt to Atlanta for Opening Day instead of Galvis is the perceived developmental edge of letting Galvis play every day in the Lehigh Valley. Galvis is having a stellar Spring in his own right (.308/.325/.564 against 8.1 quality of opposing pitching) and is a much better defender than either Betancourt or Frandsen but the question becomes: do you think Galvis will benefit more from taking every day at-bats or can Galvis maintain or even improve his current skill level by playing once every six days? If you want to roll the dice and let Chase Utley walk after 2013, the best option may be to let Galvis play every day at age 23 for the IronPigs.
The Disadvantages of Betancourt Making the Phillies
At the risk of sounding like a pompous fool with blinders on, everything else. Betancourt is likely limited to playing shortstop and doesn’t give you the position flexibility of Frandsen or Galvis. Betancourt isn’t your best option to spell Michael Young as a late inning defensive replacement or pinch run for Ryan Howard late in the game. He’s a right-handed bat but he’s certainly not a Darin Ruf-like right-handed “change the game with one swing” option. His biggest advantages is that he, at one point, was a Major League player.
It is hard to argue that the Phillies have been aggressive with his playing time in part because he has a March 24 opt-out in his contract if he is not yet on the Phillies 25-man roster. And it is hard to argue with the fact that Betancourt is hitting in every situation he is asked to hit in during Spring Training. Betancourt is still a suspect fielder, however, and, personally, I would rather take Orr as the second utility infielder, release Betancourt, and let Galvis develop his bat further with the Pigs.
So what do you do with Betancourt? While Betancourt has hit well, he hasn’t out-hit Frandsen and he hasn’t outplayed Galvis. Betancourt is now 31 and will not get any better. In fact, in both the eyes of UZR and the fans, he has had one of the sharpest declines in production this side of Delmon Young. And with Young projected to be the starting right fielder upon his return, the team is only big enough for one player on such a sharp decline. Even though Betancourt has done everything he has been asked to do, he can’t change the player he is outside of this small sample at this late in his career.