Thoughts: Yuniesky Betancourt


I started working on a couple of things for Yesterday and it just wasn’t ready. So instead, I decided to go in a different direction. I kind of stumbled upon some old e-mails that were generated by comments on assortment of websites. The basis of which were all on Yuniesky Betancourt.

I had a personal blog back in 2008/09 and I knew a couple of Royals fans, whom I ribbed pretty bad, but wasn’t in the business of writing for any sites when the Mariners traded Betancourt.

I remember the elation that came with trading Betancourt, the frustration that it hadn’t come a few weeks sooner (poor Endy Chavez) and the surprise that we got something back in return.

Let’s take a second and be honest with ourselves. It wasn’t that Yuniesky was a bad person, or even that he was really a bad athelete. He had tons of physical talent and despite the fact that he didn’t show it on a consistent enough basis for it to show up in the stats, he was for all intents and purposes, an enigma of talent that failed to make the transition and just got lost, in a sad sort of way, calling him a black hole kind of makes sense, in a scientific snarky sort-of-way.

Bentacourt was just 3 years removed from being a very valued asset to the organization at the time of his trade. Even now it’s not that hard to think back and wonder what might have been.

When he signed he was hailed for his defensive prowess.

"“Yuniesky Betancourt signed in January and reached Seattle in July. Multiple veteran scouts called him the best defensive shortstop they ever had seen, and he’s the best the Mariners have had since Omar Vizquel in the early 1990s.” Jim Callis, “Mariners Top-10 Prospects”, Feb 10, 2006"

But he also showed potential at the plate as well…

"“Yuniesky is an athletic, offensive shortstop,” Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said. “We view him as the equivalent of a first- or second-round draft pick.” Betancourt, 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, played shortstop for Cuba’s bronze-medal winning team during the 2000 World Junior championships, also batting leadoff. (That team also featured recent Angels signee Kendry Morales.) The Mariners scouted the tournament aggressively, signing its MVP, Korea’s Shin-Soo Choo, as well as Australian lefthander Travis Blackley out of the event. A coach who saw Betancourt play in Edmonton said he stood out for having natural middle-infield actions, very good hands both in the field and at the plate, and that he was one of the team’s top players. John Hickey, “Mariners Sign Cuban Star Betancourt”, Jan 11th 2005."

Yet, we all know about his tenure here in Seattle. Sad as it might be let’s face facts for a moment. Betancourt, just three years later, still had the opportunity to turn things around, even if Royals fans were completely disappointed with the trade.

While, physically he was a shadow of his former self, and still is, he still had the athletics ability that with the right training and dedication I believe he could have still turned around his career in Kansas City.

While I was more than happy to see him go, I always laugh at the meme “they always get better”, but I actually wondered if this would be *the* wake-up call that someone like Betancourt actually needed.

I know this was mentioned then, but it has been steadily forgotten as his continued play showed the deteriations of his skills. So our minds were cemented with the fact that we got rid of someone, who in our eyes was, lackadaisical, had a poor approach at the plate and was all together the embodiment of the mid-2000 Mariner clubs headed by Bill Bavasi.

Here are some post trade thoughts from 2009:

"“The opportunity presented itself for us to acquire a pair of talented arms and as we move forward, we felt this was the right thing to do at this time,” Zduriencik said in a release, put out by the team just about noon. “We want to thank Yuni for all he has done for the Mariners and wish him the best of luck in Kansas City.” Via the Seattle Times online“This is an upgrade for us,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said of Betancourt. “I like it because it gives us a good shortstop with decent offensive stats.” “We’d hope to have him back by the second half” of the season, Hillman said. “He makes us deeper and stronger overall.” Via ESPNThe Mariners still need a shortstop, but they did alleviate themselves of what has been nothing short of a chronic pain in the back of their organization today by trading SS Yuniesky Betancourt to the Royals” via Jack Moore and BtB"

"“Betancourt doesn’t hit for power, walk, take coaching well, field, or keep himself in shape. His contract calls for 3 million next year, 4 million in 2011, and 6 million in 2012 (although the Royals can always pay him the 2 million buyout instead), so he’s not cheap either. Over the last three seasons Betancourt has hit .278/.299/.392 while playing most of his games in Safeco. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but even if you assume Safeco suppressed him a bit, he’s still not a very good hitter. He’s a below average fielder at shortstop, and the whispers – which have became a bit more than that in the Seattle press – suggest he lacks work ethic.”  via"

"“1. Any trade in which Yuniesky Betancourt is the centerpiece is, by definition, not “major.”2. Betancourt’s career batting average is irrelevant. What’s relevant is his .302 career on-base percentage.3. Betancourt does not reach base with any frequency, nor does he reach ground balls with any frequency; according to Ultimate Zone Rating, Betancourt’s been the worst shortstop in the majors this season. By a lot.” Via Rob Neyer (while at ESPN)"

As was easily anticipated the reviews were resoundingly negative for the Royals, and with good reason. The trade at the time was laughable with the Mariners reciving a Top-5 pitcher in their organization a long with a potential future swing man.

Since the trade in 2009, Derrick Saito has left the organization by way of release. He started off rather hot and there was a short discussion on him being moved to the starting rotation but such talk quickly ceased as he blew out his arm and never recovered.

Dan Corteswhile long been a popular prospect within the organization the past year and while his command problems have removed him from being an option within the starting rotation, he could still develop into an effective Major League reliever. 

the Mariners won that trade. Even with Saito’s arm issues and Cortes being moved to the bullpen. They won it pretty handidly. That said I’m of the belief that it could have gone in the other direction.

While most people would take this trade as yet another indictment upon the Dayton Moore crew –and I’m not saying it’s not- I tend to think it underlines the how great of a fall Betancourt had in a mere matter of 3 years between ages 24-27. While most prospects reach their peak during this time, Betancourt only got worse. That, in my mind, is amazing.

Initial thoughts on Yuni, was he could be a potential up-the-middle star. A second glance saw him as an good shortstop and before you know it in 2008 he developed a stigma and by 2009, he carried that stigma to Kansas City in 2009. As of now won’t likely be a useful ball player again.

It’s easy to get ahead of the train and think that Nick Franklin could be that “shortstop of the future”. And it’s easy to think of all the great things that James Paxton, Dan Hultzen or even Taijuan Walker could or may even do.

But the thing is that you never know how talent will respond over time. Yuniesky Betancourt was a very serious talent coming into the states and I believe that. We can all make speculation on why he never succeeded but we don’t know all the facts. Sure, we can point out his inability to concentrate on defense and poor plate discipline but I don’t consider them physical issues, their mental, and we can hardly tell what’s in a player’s head.

I really do hope for the best for Yuniesky. After all the man braved the seas upon a make shift raft (leaving all of his family behind) in order to escape Cuba and pursue his dreams of playing professional basebal. I don’t think he did all that so he could reach the heights of being .250 hitter and widely known as a poor defender.

Then again, sometimes I get the feeling that he doesn’t truely understand nor care what others think about his game. If he did, I would have imagined it would have improved or we would have seen alterations to his game. which is something that we’ve never seen. Sometimes you just have to wonder…