Jobu examines the curious case of the surging Brewer, Yuniesky Betancourt.
I almost hesitate to make this post part of my Redemption Song Series because, well… You have to have once been good to have a redemption, don’t you? Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on our friend, Yuniesky Betancourt, but it’s not like he was a great major leaguer before his current surge. Either way though, there’s something special going on for him in Milwaukee and I’m just here to report the news.
Like many Cuban ballplayers, Betancourt has an interesting beginning built into his story. He was one of the better players in Cuba early in his career: a second baseman with blazing speed and a solid bat. Like every other Cuban hoping to escape the clutches of Fidel Castro, Betancourt left the island on a speedboat (although actually he’s lucky he had that, I suppose) in the middle of the night. He ended up in Mexico, where he played until he was signed by the Mariners in January of 2005, when he was 23 years old. By late July, he was on the big league roster.
Known more for his glove than his bat, Betancourt actually had better offensive numbers than defensive ones, making over 20 errors in each of his first three full seasons in baseball. Because his range wasn’t all that great either, he became known as one of the worst shortstops in baseball. At least he hit a little, though. From 2006-2008, he hit .286/..306/.404 and managed to hit 24 homers in that time as well. He twice almost reached 40 doubles too. He wasn’t a world beater at the plate, but at least he could handle himself with the bat.
The big concern was that Betancourt’s pitch selection was among the worst in the league. He rarely struck out, topping out at 54 in 2006, but he almost never walked, topping out at 17 in 2008. In 2009, things started going South for him. In early July, he was hitting .250/.278/.330 and the Mariners decided they’d had enough. They traded Betancourt to the Royals for Derrick Saito and Dan Cortes (no, not the MTV host, although it might as well have been).
He actually had his best offensive season in 2010 with Kansas City, hitting .259/.288/.405 with 16 homers and 78 RBI. He even walked a career high 23 times! It would not be enough. The Royals sent him to Milwaukee as part of the Zack Grienke deal, for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Ordozzi (what a trade for K.C., btw). The brewers cut him after one year and he ended up back with the Royals for the 2012 season. After the Royals cut him this past August, he signed with the Phillies during the off-season. They cut him before the end of spring training, and the Brewers took another chance.
Betancourt has been playing all over the field so far in 2013. He’s made 14 starts at third (filling in for the injured Aramis Ramírez), 6 at first (where he’s currently filling in for the injured Corey Hart and his sunglasses) and also spent some time in the outfield and at short. While he’s not been particularly great at any of it, he’s only made 3 errors in his 30 games. But boy, has he hit. Although the season is young, Betancourt has been one of the more dangerous hitters in this Brewers lineup, putting together a slash line of .248/.273/.480, with 8 homers and 24 RBI. How has he done it? According to a report i read on Hardball Talk, Betancourt says:
“Leave the ball on home plate and I swing. I swing wherever it is, but when it’s on home plate, I actually hit it.”
I couldn’t have made that up if I tried. Enjoy the redemption song while it lasts, Brewers fans. It won’t. Yuniesky’s just not good enough. But for now, the tune his bat is playing is pretty damn sweet.
Featured image courtesy of: Jeffrey Phelps
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