Chris Betts has emerged as the top prep catcher in the eyes of many evaluators after a strong summer.
He has a premium profile as a lefthanded-hitting catcher with plus raw power. He put on a show during the Under Armour All-America Game Home Run Derby in Wrigley Field, launching numerous balls out of the park and onto the street beyond right field.
Betts has routinely impacted the ball in game action across numerous events this summer, despite some swing and miss. According to TrackMan, Betts had the farthest-hit ball at Perfect Game National, two of the 15 hardest-hit balls at the Area Code Games and the third-hardest hit ball at the Perfect Game All-American Classic. He also had a grand slam at the Tournament of Stars and a loud double at the UA All-America Game.
Betts also offers plus pure arm strength behind the plate, though his in-game throws haven’t always played in that range during game action. Scouts praise Betts’ leadership skills, feel for the game and desire to catch. Speed is not a part of Betts’ game, as he is a well below-average runner. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Betts has a strong, thick and burly build.
Baseball America caught up with Betts at the Under Armour Game to talk about his summer.
Baseball America: What did you think when you walked out of the elevator onto the sixth floor?
Chris Betts: We saw pictures beforehand and I thought it was a clubhouse or Wrigley or something like that. Then we get off on the sixth floor and it is a hike into the room. It was ridiculous, and we were looking around in amazement. The UA guys were laughing at us. It is really cool. All the rooms are decorated. There is a players lounge and equipment lounge. It is unreal.
BA: Congratulations on the EvoShield SWAG award. Were you surprised?
CB: Yes I was, but that was ridiculous and I was so excited. They were saying that they did a lot of research, so I thought Twitter, Instagram and other social media. I like to talk to everybody, keep it lose and have fun, so that might have helped. They said they knew about a month ago. I wanted to bring it but my dad said no.
BA: Maybe wear it like a big Flava-Flav clock around your neck?
CB: Yeah, I would have been down for that.
BA: That was really fun to talk to you after the PG AA Classic. You had one of the hardest-hit balls of the game. After hearing you break down Kolby Allard’s performance and other pitchers it was evident that you think about the game on a different level that many players this age. When did that start to develop?
CB: My dad caught four years of Division I baseball at Oklahoma and I have been surrounded with people like Craig Grebeck. My summer coach has immense knowledge. Since I was probably 11 years old I called my own game. My dad has always taught me that you want to go with the pitchers’ strengths and not the hitters’ weakness. A lot of stuff I hear from Rookie ball and the minor leagues is all about catchers learning to handle a staff and calling their games. I try to pick apart everything I see. I don’t try to do it too much or look at the hitter while he is swinging but keep it in the back of the back of mind, so I can recall every pitch. I could probably go back to all my at-bats and tell you every single pitch that I had during the game. I take a lot of pride in using that to my advantage. It helps me out immensely in calling pitches. When we get another time through the order I am not going to necessarily start pitching backwards just because we went through again. My dad has certainly helped me with that. To this day I pick his brain. We talk for about 30-45 minutes after every game about what I was looking for and how things played out in certain situations. I ask him questions after the game. Asking him questions about situations has created learning. He never initiates it or goes out of his way to say ‘why didn’t you swing at this pitch or why did you call this pitch?’ But if I ask him ‘what did you think of this 2-2 pitch to Dean in the sixth inning?,’ he would know and he would let me know what he thought. We always have something to talk about on the ride home.
BA: That is really neat.
CB: My dad didn’t play big league baseball or a high level of pro ball, but he caught D-1 for an amazing coach in Bill Mosiello who is a catching guru, and my dad picked his brain. What I take the most pride in is that I have my dad and I pick his brain. That is where I get most of my knowledge. But it is not that I will only listen to him because he is my dad. There are things that contradict him that I like better and when I when I explain my views he is so open about it and will take it into consideration. Then that is what we will work on and the other thing will go out the window. He is very open and knowledgeable at the same time. It is really neat.
BA: A scout once told me that projection for most baseball people describes the guys with the big frames and great-looking bodies. Some capitalize on that projection but some don’t, all that comes and goes. His take was that projection is aptitude for the game and a willingness to improve and learn more. Your drive for the game and the relationship you have with your father sounds like a good example of what that scout was talking about.
BA: All the credit in the world to my dad, but a lot of credit needs to go to my mom as well. If I have a good or bad game, she will say you something like ‘I didn’t like the way you walked back to the dugout. You need to clean that up.’ She really keeps me in check. They have raised me to be humble. They taught me that you can’t take anything for granted. I am in a great situation where I can go out and play baseball, smile and remain humble. But she definitely keeps me going and if I have a bad game I can come home and not talk about it. If I go 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, then I’ll just get the golden sombrero jokes on the way home. At the Area Code Games there was a day when I went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk. After the game my dad was just making fun of me because of the hanging curveball I took for strike three. They keep me going and keep it light. They have taught me don’t take anything too seriously. Even when it is your job, baseball is still a game. If you are going to succeed at it, you have to treat it like a game. I don’t like the saying that ‘baseball is my job’ because your job is something where you go and clock in to clock out. If you have a career then you like it, you enjoy it and you want to go every day. I want to have a career in baseball. I don’t want to have a job. If I have get to the field at 6 a.m. to take batting practice then maybe from 6-6:15 I’ll be a little out of it but the rest of the day I am as happy as can be.
BA: You are a true baseball rat aren’t you? There are players that are talented and then then there are players that are both talented and have passion for the game. You have that combination of both.
CB: I take a lot of pride in that I am a baseball rat. I will go to the gym to get my work done and then go to the cage to get my work done. Then I will hang out with the select group of friends I have that will help me get to where I am going. Even when I am going good in baseball I have a routine. A lot of time I am getting my work done early in the day so that I can enjoy life itself.
BA: It’s that combination that wins you the swag award. You are committed to Tennessee. They have a great coaching staff there and there is a lot of draft talent there for this year. What attracted you there because I don’t assume there are too many guys in that program from California?
CB: A huge selling point was the SEC, without a doubt. West Coast baseball is something else and it is amazing how they do it. It’s amazing how they can have their No. 4 hole hitter bunt in the first inning and they can win. I want to be in the position where I am facing top-caliber guys Friday through Sunday. I feel like there is nothing else like the SEC in the nation. Bill Mosiello was on staff when I committed there, and he coached my dad at the University of Oklahoma. He left last year to go to TCU. When he left, some schools made contact again but Coach Serrano is an amazing coach to play for. Talk about some history. Eric Thomas, the assistant there, is amazing. It is pretty cool how the coaching staff works together and how they mesh. We went out there during the winter break of my sophomore year and it was beautiful. But the main thing is the SEC and then once I got there and saw how well the coaching staff meshed and how Coach Serrano treated his players it is a no-brainer.
BA: Let’s talk about catching. You have always had arm strength. I saw you as an underclassman at the Area Code Games last year. It seems like your arm strength has improved since then. Do you feel that is the case because when you let that thing go it can get down to second pretty quick?
CB: What I have noticed now is that with working out and taking care of my body all aspects of my game have improved, so I haven’t had a sore arm in seven months. I take pride in it and take care of it. I know my arm is good, so I am not going to take it for granted. I run like a pitcher after my workouts to take care of my arm. I ice it and take care of it. That is one of the biggest strengths of my game because I am not exactly the smallest guy back there. So I need something to make up for what I don’t have in speed or agility or footwork. I have a lot of work I can do to improve my footwork and I am doing it right now. When I improve that I feel my arm could be even better. I am pretty excited. When I am throwing the ball well I am trying to the throw the ball 122 or 124 feet so I can get it to come up a little bit. There are some throws where I have been dogging myself as soon as the ball comes out of my hand and then it comes right back up.
BA: Are you a big long toss guy?
CB: I don’t have a schedule for long toss because I listen to how my arm feels. I think long toss is amazing and builds arm strength. About once or twice a week I will really stretch it out. What I really like doing is going about 120 to 140 feet. I like getting into a good throwing position and trying to throw through the target, who is usually my dad, who still keeps up with me playing catch. That really gets me going through the ball and throwing through the base. The other days of the week I will stretch it out with long toss. I listen to my body and what it wants. If you get into a routine your body is not necessarily that fine-tuned for a throwing program. There are ones that work, but I am personally just more comfortable listening to my body. Right now I am a high school player who could go to pro ball or go to school but until I am out of school or in an organization, I am going to listen to my body. If they want to put me in a throwing program then let’s go to a throwing program. But right now I am trying to take care of my body. One of the keys to my summer has been making sure I stay fit. After this fall, I am going to come out in the spring and there is going to be a different body. I can guarantee you that. I have already made some pretty good strides.
BA: Compared to last year at the ACG it seems like you have trimmed down. Walk me through the developments you have made with your body over the last year and what your goals are for next spring.
CB: I don’t have a specific weight goal. I think sometimes weight can be overdone. If you get a number but you are soft or lost strength then what did you accomplish? I don’t want to call it firming up. I am just trying to stay strong and look better in a baseball uniform. I am trying to look better on the field. I know with what I have right now I can do great things, but I also know that the better my body gets the higher my potential is. I was always the 11-year-old fat kid dropping bombs and eating doughnuts after the game. So now I am trying to drop bombs and eat salad after the game. It has been working so far but I am really trying to hit it hard this fall. We have a planned laid out and I am ready to get after it.
BA: You mentioned long-distance running. Are you are a big long-distance runner who runs like a pitcher?
CB: I wouldn’t call myself a big long-distance runner because I am not very good at it, but I make myself do it. I try to run as much as I can and if I am not running, I will swim or be on the bike. Cardio was my best friend when I was trying to cut down originally.
BA: I am glad that you mentioned swimming. I spoke with Ke’Bryan Hayes and he has lost about 15 pounds in the last year and a lot that has come from biking and swimming.
CB: I have caught more than a thousand games in my career. If I want to catch anywhere from a couple thousand more games in my career, running is constant impact on your legs. While running has its benefits, there are always a few disadvantages to it. With swimming much of that is negated. It is drains me more and it is low impact. I swim a lot.
BA: You have a lot going for you as a player because of your arm strength and your power potential, among other things. Where do you think you have the biggest room for improvement going forward?
CB: Along with the improvements to my body, my speed should improve. But what I really think needs the most improvement or needs to be better is showing more of a hit tool. I hit balls hard but sometimes I think the power overshadows it. But I want those two tools to be equal. I want to be plus in both categories. This summer I have been working on having quality at-bats and I have seen more pitches. I always had this idea that if I don’t hit early in the count, I won’t hit at all. But I have been seeing a lot more pitches and I have been having a lot more success this year. I had a nine-pitch strikeout at the Perfect Game All-American Classic.
BA: That was one of the better at-bats of the game against Triston McKenzie. I think that was the longest at-bat of the entire game.
CB: I am really focused on having at-bats like that. I only got to see him for one inning but I walk away knowing that I am seeing the ball well and that if he is in the rest of the game, I have his number. I feel like I put myself in an advantageous position. I am not a fan of taking a first-pitch strike unless it is a late situation. The last at-bat, for example, I swung on the first pitch. I am looking one spot and one pitch. If I am feeling good I might go with one pitch for a strike and drive it somewhere. There is a lot that depends on it. I don’t like going up there with a stationary plan. I am always thinking center field but I may not be thinking the same pitch every time. A lot of that comes for catching and watching from the dugout.
BA: You mentioned the nine-pitch at-bat against McKenzie and you jumped on the first pitch from Ashe Russell in your first at-bat. McKenzie is pretty interesting, isn’t he?
CB: He sure is. It wasn’t goofy or funky or anything. There was that late hop. I didn’t know what had happened until it was by me. I didn’t really see it because it just came out a different way.
BA: He had some of the best extension of any pitcher at the ACG and PG All-American Classic. That is the late hop through the zone like you talked about. With how long his arms are he looks like Tayshaun Prince, and then with the way he gets extended like that, it really jumps through the zone.
CB: I have never seen him from the backside because I have only faced him but from where I am picking the ball up to where he releases it, his arm is very smooth. It is all one motion and it is easy. Then you have guys like Beau (Burrows) where he is throwing all 5-foot-11 of him at you and it is coming out good. Then you have McKenzie where he is just putting the ball where he wants it. It is definitely a change of pace.