Betemit wants to stick with big club
Blue-chip prospect now just hopes to be utility infielder
As the MLB.com spotlight shines on the Atlanta Braves, we take a look at Wilson Betemit, who heads into the 2005 season with something to prove.
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- If all the projections had been correct, Wilson Betemit would already be a star in the Major Leagues. Instead, the 24-year-old switch-hitting shortstop came to Braves camp just hoping to find a spot on Atlanta's 25-man roster.
The difference this year is that failure to do so could end his career in the Braves' organization. Betemit is out of options, meaning he'll have to pass through waivers before being sent back to the minor leagues.
"I want to be with this organization," Betemit said. "I've always wanted to be in Atlanta."
Through the first couple of weeks of camp, it was unclear whether Betemit would get his wish. But thanks to his recent production, it appears he'll begin the season as one of the Braves utility infielders.
"He's definitely capable of doing big things," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said. "There's never been any question about his defense."
Betemit has an arm that rivals Rafael Furcal's outstanding one at short, and he also possesses great range. As a switch-hitter, he's got good power from both sides.
But Betemit has never shown consistency at the plate. While languishing at Triple-A Richmond over the past three years, he compiled a .261 batting average. But there were times that he showed great promise, as he did on Tuesday with his two-homer performance against the Mets' Tom Glavine.
Entering Thursday afternoon's game against the Yankees, Betemit was hitting .297 with three homers and seven RBIs. He's also playing strong defense and proving that he's willing to keep fighting for his life in the Braves organization.
"I believe in (Betemit)," Braves director of player personnel Dayton Moore said. "I really do. Nobody can ever predict when a player is finished developing."
At one time, Betemit was regarded by some to be the best prospect in baseball. He earned this title after hitting .355 in the second half of the 2001 season at Double-A Greenville. But since then, that praise has turned into doubts.
Betemit hit just .245 with eight homers at Richmond in 2002. The disappointing numbers were forgivable because of his age (21) and injuries. There was slight improvement in 2003., but he didn't really show true promise again until he hit .278 with 13 homers last year.
"It's not that he's been out there lost," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "When you get a kid like that, everybody expects so much more right away."
There's still a slight chance Betemit could be traded. But it would take quite an offer for the Braves to move him.
As for being placed on waivers, that's certainly not in Betemit's future.
There was some thought Pete Orr would get the second utility infielder's spot because he has good speed and the ability to play the outfield. But because he has options and Betemit is having a strong camp, the club will likely send Orr to Richmond to begin the season.
With the Braves, Betemit would have to adapt to being a role player. The limited at-bats and playing time are a concern to those who believe he could become disinterested or rusty in a hurry. But he doesn't think this will be a problem.
"I'm willing to do whatever, whenever they want me to," Betemit said.
If he does make the Majors, he'll face the next step necessary for him to prove he does belong.
"In the minor leagues, you're a prospect," Moore said. "When you get to the Majors, you have to become a producer."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.