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Player Profile: Rafael Betancourt

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Vital Statistics:

Full Name: Rafael Jose Betancourt
Born: 4-29-1975 (Cumana, Venezuela)
Height: 6'2" Weight: 200 lbs
Throws: Right Bats: Right

Baseball Statistics:

MLB.com
Hardball Times
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball-Reference
Fangraphs
Baseball Cube (minors)

Service Time/Options:

Service Time: 3.079*
Options Remaining: 2

*As of Opening Day 2007

Contract History/Status:

  1. ~$300,000
  2.  $305,200 (Renewable)
  3.  $338,600 (Renewable)
  4.  $365,300 (Renewable)
  5.  $840,000 (Arbitration)
  6.  Arbitration
  7.  Arbitration
  8.  Free Agency
Background/Transactions:

9-16-1993: Signed by the Boston Red Sox as a non-drafted free agent
Signed as position player, Rafael started his professional career at a fairly advanced age (19).

Started 1994 with GCL Red Sox (R-)
63 AB, .111/.183/.111, 0 2B, 0 HR, 19 SO, 6 BB (Age 19)
Unlike many Latin American signees, Betancourt started his professional career in the States. He didn't get much playing time, and when he did get into the lineup, he struggled.

1995: GCL Red Sox (R-)
168 AB, .256/.308/.286, 5 2B, 0 HR, 31 SO, 13 BB (Age 20)
Much better, but he still wasn't hitting for power, and at age 20, he didn't have youth on his side.

1996: West Michigan (A-)
168 AB, .167/.228/.250, 1 2B, 2 3B, HR, 39 SO, 12 BB (Age 21)
Not good. This was the death knell to Rafael's career as a position player. He could have lasted maybe a couple more seasons as an utility guy, backing up the prospects. Fortunately, someone suggested Rafael try pitching.

1997: West Michigan (A-)
32.1 IP, 1.95 ERA, 26 H, 52 SO, 2 BB (Age 22)

Betancourt's first season as a pitcher was a very good one. He served as West Michigan's closer and had the highest strikeout rate of any Midwest League pitcher. Check out his SO/BB ratio: even at this early point in his development, he had exceptional control.

1998: Sarasota (A+)
28.0 IP, 3.54 ERA, 22 H, 33 SO, 6 BB (Age 23)
More excellent control and bat-missing for Rafael.

1999: Trenton (AA)
54.2 IP, 3.62 ERA, 50 H, 57 SO, 10 BB (Age 24)
His best season to date, though he still wasn't high on many prospect lists; after all, this was a guy with low-90s fastball and not much else. But consistent results had to count for something, right?

11-18-1999: Sold to Yokohama (JCL)
I guess not. Perhaps the Red Sox were trying to avoid him getting Rule Fived, and perhaps they didn't have enough room on their 40-man roster. Still, this had to come as a shock to Betancourt. To make things even worse, he lasted just four appearances with Yokohama before being sent to the Japanese minors. He never made it back the rest of the 2000 season.

12-13-00:Signed a minor-league contract with the Boston Red Sox
Betancourt returned to the Red Sox organization in essentially the same position he left it, but a year older.

2001: Trenton (AA)
24.0 IP, 5.63 ERA, 28 H, 27 SO, 3 BB (Age 26)
Instead of getting promoted to Pawtucket, Betancourt was sent back to Trenton. Unfortunately, a major setback was right around the corner...

5-17-01: Placed on the Disabled List (AA) - right elbow
Betancourt waited another two months before undergoing surgery (according to the 2007 Media Guide) "to transpose the ulnar nerve as well as having a metal rod placed in his right forearm to stabilize his right elbow and ulna." He missed the rest of the 2001 season, as well as all of 2002.

2-6-03: Signed a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians
This signing was based on a tryout, which illustrates how close Betancourt was from falling out of professional baseball.

2003: Akron (AA)
45.1 IP, 1.39 ERA, 33 H, 75 SO, 13 BB (Age 28)
This time, the numbers were too eye-popping to ignore...

6-30-03: Promoted to Buffalo (AAA)
6.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, 6 H, 6 SO, 2 BB (Age 28)
His stay with the Bisons was short, as the rebuilding parent club needed some help in the bullpen.

7-12-03: Contract Purchased and Recalled to Cleveland (MLB Debut)
38.0 IP, 1.565 WXRL, 2.13 ERA, 36 SO, 13 BB (Age 28)
Betancourt made 32 appearances the rest of the way, and quickly became one of the bullpen's best relievers (only David Riske had a higher WXRL)

2004: Cleveland
Disabled List (arm fatgue): June 26-July 11
66.7 IP, 1.356 WXRL, 3.92 ERA, 71 H, 76 SO, 18 BB (Age 29)
Betancourt was pressed into the closer's role early in the season thanks to several of the team's other relievers flaming out. The biggest with that arrangement was that the rest bullpen couldn't get the game to him, so he eventually moved back into a setup role. After he returned from a mid-season stint on the DL, the bullpen was rounding into shape thanks to the return of Bob Wickman from elbow surgery, and the additions of Bob Howry and Matt Miller. Rafael settled in a support role, and thrived.

2005: Cleveland
Disabled List (right shoulder): June 30th-July 8
Suspended List (drugs): July 8-18
67.2 IP, 1.145 WXRL, 2.79 ERA, 57 H, 73 SO, 17 BB (Age 30)
This time the bullpen was effective from the start, and Betancourt stayed in a 7th inning role throughout the season. He tested positive for peformance-enhancing drugs in July, and was suspended 15 days (5 days of the suspension was served concurrently with a DL stint).

2006: Cleveland
Disabled List (right lat muscle): April 20-May 14
56.2 IP, 1.617 WXRL, 3.81 ERA, 52 H, 48 SO, 11 BB (Age 31)
Betancourt's season was derailed early by a DL stint early in the season. After he returned, he had probably the worst month in his career, contributing to the worst bullpen in baseball. He got better after the All-Star Break, and by the close of the season, he was once again the team's primary setup man.

The Graphical Rafael

Betancourt's calling card is control...

...and in addition to control, he's good at keeping pitches in the yard:

Repetroire

(1) Fastball (91-93 mph)
(2) Curve
(3) Changeup

He relies overwhelmingly on his fastball, and rarely uses his other two pitches as anything more than show pitches. His curve is pretty flat, and looks very much like a slider.

Delivery

Betancourt, like most relievers, does not use the windup. Once he brings his glove to the set position, he taps his toe on the rubber several times, which has been interpreted by opposing managers and players as a balk. He is the most deliberate reliever in baseball, taking a very long time to deliver the ball after stepping on the rubber. In between pitches, he'll touch the bill of his cap several times.

Strengths

An uncanny ability to place his fastball exactly where he wants. Even though the velocity on his fastball isn't overwhelming by major-league standards, he still can throw it by just about every batter thanks to way he hides the ball during his delivery.

Weaknesses

His first few seasons, he was less effective after pitching the day before. That's mostly gone away.

Outlook

One of the best relievers in baseball, including closers.