SAN DIEGO- In the sporting world, it’s not uncommon to find athletes who interchange or switch positions somewhere along the way in their careers. For example, Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt has been seen catching touchdown passes as a tight end, while Alex Rodriguez began his major league career as a shortstop before sliding over to third base.
Position changes like these are not hard to come by for one reason in particular; they’re basically the same thing. A defensive end is the tight end of the defense, while any infield position with the possible exception of first base is pretty interchangeable.
What is hard to come by are athletes who change to entirely different positions. In todays world, you’ll never see a quarterback snapping the ball at center, and until now, you’ll never see a catcher double as a pitcher, especially not in the same game.
The San Diego Padres’ backup catcher Christian Bethancourt has proved himself worthy of a relief pitching job during the team’s spring training campaign in Peoria, Arizona, a move completely unheard of across the league.
The 25-year-old began his transition to pitching during the Panamanian Winter League a few months ago during the offseason. Although his off-speed pitches and overall mechanics were sloppy during spring training, he was still able to throw his way out of an inning he pitched against the San Francisco Giants.
Not only does Betancourt catch and pitch, but in one game alone last season he also played second base and left field. On top of that, he’s a dominant force at the plate. He’s a career .223 hitter with eight homers and 46 RBIs in 153 games.
Canisius College catcher Christ Conley also knows a thing or two about playing the position of catcher and pitcher simultaneously.
A standout in high school, Conley saw most of his time behind the plate catching for the Lake Shore Eagles out of Angola, NY, but also served a pivotal role in the Eagles pitching rotation.
While Betancourt strictly serves as a relief pitcher, Conley saw himself starting for the Eagles often.
“In high school I probably threw about one game a week between my junior and senior year. I tried to shy away from throwing but when I had to, I did,” said Conley.
With Betancourt switching from pitcher to catcher sometimes In the same game, you can’t help but wonder if the change affects his mental ability to perform each position to the best of his ability. Conley doesn’t find the change to be a negative factor.
“I don’t think [the positions] differ from a mental standpoint. They’re two positions that work together the entire game and are involved in every pitch. Knowing one position can only make you better at the other,” said Conley.
Professional baseball players often spend their entire playing careers fine tuning one position. It’s rare to see a career catcher turn pitcher over the course of just a few months. Conley doesn’t believe it makes a huge difference jumping positions like Betancourt has done.
“When it comes down to it, it’s not knowing the position, but knowing the guy you’re working with. The game of baseball is very complex at higher levels and it’s a mental sport. I think knowing the other player and having a connection with them is more important. If you have the connection with who you’re working with, you can succeed at any position.”
Hopefully this success can be found throughout Bethancourt’s transition into the ultimate utility man this 2017 MLB season.