You know, as I look deeper, Betemit still looks like a pretty good prospect. The first thing to remember is that Betemit is actually sixteen months younger than his listed age; the Braves signed him at fifteen. Those numbers look a lot better with a seasonal age of 20 than one of 22.
The second thing is that the Braves overpromoted him. He had a good but not overwhelming year in 2001, including 47 strong games in Greenville. But at the time he had just one season worth of advanced (high-A and AA) baseball, and was only 20 years old. But the Braves thought he was on the fast track, and promoted him to Richmond, where he flamed out. He repeated the level (still only 21) and wasn’t much better, and basically everyone gave up on him. (I wonder if the Betemit experience helps explain the kid gloves treatment Andy Marte has thus far received.)
But last year, he was still young for the level and hit a more than solid .278/.336/.466. That’s good enough — actually, close to what Furcal hit in the majors but with a little more power — that if he could really play shortstop he’d be in good shape for a long major league career. Can he really play shortstop? Ah, there’s the rub. It appears he can’t, and as a third baseman he’ll either have to hit for a higher average or for more power to be a contributor. Plus, there’s no place for a third baseman in the Braves’ plans.
Betemit is out of options now, and the Braves will have to either keep him on the major league roster or cut bait. Right now, he’s the closest thing to a backup shortstop they have, and will likely make the team as a utility infielder. His first fifty major league ABs have been pretty disastrous — last season he hit .170 with no extra-base hits — but he was good enough in AAA to make me think he can contribute. He’s a good athlete who can run a little but doesn’t have great speed, and his offense is basically power-based, so he doesn’t fit the mold of a classic utility infielder, but a switch-hitter with power is a nice thing to have on the bench. If he’s really good in spring, though, I think the Braves will shop him.