Chris Betts Joins ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 78

Image credit: Chris Betts (Getty Images)

Chris Betts had put in the work, and was ready to see that work pay dividends. 

Already committed to Tennessee, the catcher from Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. built on an already impressive prep career as a senior by improving his conditioning and physique, and working with longtime big leaguer Kurt Suzuki on his skills behind the dish.

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Betts was a Baseball America preseason first-team All-American in the spring of 2015, and had a shot to be taken inside the first 15 picks of that year’s draft. 

Then in April, he tore his UCL, requiring Tommy John surgery and throwing his draft status into uncertainty.

“It was a mental grind for sure,” said Betts. “Seeing everything in regards to the draft change very quickly, it was a lot to deal with at the time.”

Understandably, Betts was worried, but fortunately had a calming presence in the form of his advisor, and eventual agent.

“My advisor at the time, was still treating me gently as a 17-18 year old kid. Taking off his professional hat at times to just make sure mentally I was okay, always checking in with my family seeing how I was,” said Betts. “It wasn’t an easy go at it, those two months were something, so him being there for me and being transparent, (…) that kept me level-headed.”

Betts was taken 52nd overall by the Rays, signing for $1.48 million, looking to hit the ground running after recovering from his elbow surgery. Unfortunately for Betts, one injury turned into multiple. Betts didn’t make his full-season debut until 2018, over three years since he’d been drafted—which didn’t make him feel much like the prospect he’d been as a high schooler.

“When I got healthy and I went to Bowling Green for a little bit, I felt the opposite,” said Betts. “I knew I was way behind the 8-ball. I was very, very aware of how tough my situation was and how long I had been away from the game—I really didn’t feel that prospect status.” 

Betts didn’t play a full healthy season until his fifth year in the Rays system, spending all of 2019 in Bowling Green, showing some good (19 home runs) and some not so good (136 strikeouts in 110 games). Heading into 2020 and the tail end of his first contract with Tampa Bay, Betts knew he needed a big year to regain his prospect shine—and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, leading to yet another derailed season. 

“I’m just realistic—when I didn’t get invited to the alternate site and I just ended up sitting at home until instructional league in the late fall of 2020, I don’t want to say the writing was on the wall, but I knew most likely the route where it was going,” said Betts. “I knew what another year without the at bats was going to do.”

After missing all of 2020, Betts dealt with injuries yet again in 2021, and finished out his time with the Rays having appeared in just 255 games over seven years. Betts signed with the Dodgers and reported to Double-A Tulsa for the 2022 season, but life as a reserve catcher on a minor league salary didn’t prove itself to be viable for longterm happiness. 

“You’re just looking at the situation you’re in at Tulsa, and I’m off the roster and haven’t played in a month,” said Betts. “You’re looking at what you’re doing every day, and it’s crazy to think that what you’re doing every day just catching bullpens is preventing you from just having a normal summer or just enjoying the things in life I haven’t gotten to enjoy because I’ve been working every summer—seeing my family, living in California.”

Betts retired following the 2022 season, and went directly into an industry of which he was familiar with—player representation, working for the same agency that had repped him as a player. Now on his second life in baseball, Betts is working to provide the same reassurance and counsel to players that had kept him mentally healthy, even as his body wouldn’t allow him to stay on the field. 

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ former minor league backstop and BA high school All-American Chris Betts joins to walk through his career in baseball. How to improve as a player while rehabbing, the changes in framing over the past 10 years in baseball, and winning an MiLB Home Run Derby. 

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