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Position Battles: White Sox 3B, Pt. 2: Wilson Betemit

Yesterday, we profiled White Sox third base candidate Josh Fields. The former-first rounder has been a mild disappointment for Chicago, as the 26 year-old enters the 2009 season having yet to secure an everyday job. Today, let’s examine another guy who was once highly-touted, Wilson Betemit.

Betemit knows a thing or two about heightened expectations. The switch-hitter was once the next big thing in the Atlanta farm system, having signed out of the Dominican Republic in 1996. Betemit’s deal put the Braves in a bit of hot water, as birth certificate shenanigans caused confusion. Apparently, he was just 14 when he came to terms with Atlanta- international players are not eligible to sign until age 16. The Braves took a $100K fine and Betemit attempted to become a free agent, but the situation eventually blew over and the prized youngster took the field for the organization.

The results were fairly promising for such a youthful player, as Betemit raked in rookie ball and Low-A in 1999 and 2000. He held his own at High-A as a teenager in 2001 (.277/.326/.412) and smoked Double-A late in the season (.355/.395/.514). Baseball America was smitten with the then-shortstop, naming him the 29th best prospect in the game in ’01 and #8 overall in 2002. He kept his head above water at AAA between 2002 and 2004 (his career line at the level is .263/.325/.421), and he saw his first significant action with the Braves as a 23 year-old in 2005.

Betemit was only a part-time SS by that point, but he posted a tasty .305/.359/.435 showing in 274 PA. Since that point, however, Betemit’s progress at the plate has basically stalled. Following his .337 wOBA with Atlanta in ’05, he has posted marks of .336 in 2006 (split between the Braves and the Dodgers), .342 in 2007 (Dodgers and Yankees), and .308 this past year in the Bronx.

Over the course of his big league career, Betemit has shown decent plate discipline (9 BB%) and a propensity to whiff (28.6 K%), though he kept the K’s and eschewed the walks while posting a 3.1 BB% with the Yankees in limited 2008 playing time. While battling pink eye and a hamstring pull, he ventured outside of the strike zone over 31% of the time in sporadic AB’s for New York, a hefty increase over his previous rates. The Yankees booted Betemit to the South Side of Chicago in an offseason swap involving Nick Swisher.

It’s unfair to label Betemit a “bust”- the 27 year-old has authored a decent .260/.325/.437 career line in the majors- but it’s clear that the thrice-traded former top prospect has fallen short of expectations. His potent bat stopped progressing, and his big 6-3 frame necessitated a shift primarily to the infield corners (where his glove still does him no favors, with a career -8.9 UZR at third).

Betemit hits both ways, but he has done most of his damage against right-handers (.269/.339/.460 career) while generally flailing versus southpaws (.232/.276/.360). Given Fields’ lefty-lashing tendencies, a platoon (AKA a fantasy owner’s worst nightmare) suggests itself. Betemit has his uses on a major league roster as a reserve/platoon player with some pop, but he’s probably not someone deserving of a roster spot in most fantasy leagues.