Bethancourt impresses in 1st spring bullpen session

Bethancourt impresses in 1st spring bullpen session

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Standing by the interview area next to the Padres' main practice field, Christian Bethancourt watched as his catching brethren went through their daily running routine. For the first time he could recall, he wasn't among them.

On Friday, "catcher Christian Bethancourt" gave way to "right-handed pitcher Christian Bethancourt," who threw his first official bullpen session of Spring Training. He tossed 25 pitches to catcher Rocky Gale, and the San Diego staff came away impressed with his command and improved mechanics.

The Padres are hoping to convert Bethancourt into a hybrid catcher/pitcher/outfielder this season. And Friday's bullpen session served as another step toward that goal.

"Today was fun," Bethancourt said afterward. "I threw a lot of strikes. I guess when you throw a lot of strikes, it's fun."

Sounds like he's got this pitching thing figured out.

Green on Bethancourt, infield

Bethancourt's delivery was noticeably cleaner Friday than during his two mopup appearances in relief last season. Bullpen coach Doug Bochtler, who monitored the session, pointed out that Bethancourt did a better job controlling the shift in weight onto his front foot. Last year, it seemed as though Bethancourt's arm lagged behind the rest of his body.

Bochtler was most impressed with Bethancourt's command at the bottom of the strike zone.

"He's a special talent," Bochtler said. "We're trying to do everything we can to utilize a guy like this. He's got a power arm. He's got tons of power. He can get back there and catch the ball."

Must C: Bethancourt's relief

Bochtler added it was somewhat strange seeing Bethancourt working with the pitching group.

"He's over there on the bunt field," Bochtler joked, "and I'm thinking, 'Christian, if you're up to bat, you're not bunting, dude. You're trying to hit it off the Western Metal Building.'"

Bethancourt began his transition to the bullpen during the offseason, making seven appearances in his native Panama. To help with his mechanics, he watched videos of other big league pitchers, paying close attention to the subtlest of details. Where did their feet land? Where did their gloves finish?

"The core of his delivery is there," said Gale, who came away impressed. "He creates some torque with his arm. He's definitely well put-together, and he looks like he's done it before."

If all goes according to plan, Bethancourt would serve as the Padres' backup catcher, eighth reliever and fifth outfielder. Those roles could make him extremely valuable on a roster that's juggling three Rule 5 picks and an abundance of middle infielders.

Bethancourt's mid-to-upper 90s fastball is easily his most polished pitch, and he's incorporated a two-seamer that has progressed nicely as well. As for his off-speed pitches -- a changeup and a tight slider -- they're still works in progress.

"At this point, he's got a better feel for the changeup," Gale said. "He's got a couple sliders that he's playing with -- a short one and a bigger one.

"He's still working on [his pitches]. But it has all the makings of big league stuff."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.