The Tomahawk Take Top 20 Atlanta Braves Prospects: 6-10

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Braves catcher

Christian Bethancourt

(25) blocks a pitch in the dirt against the Washington Nationals. The Braves defeated the Nationals 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

#7:  C Christian Bethancourt

You might ask why he’s still on this list, and that’s a reasonable question.  CBeth has 32 games (31 plus one AB) now, having spelled the Braves while Evan Gattis was hurt in August/September of 2014, so he’s still technically a prospect.

That will change in 2015 for this native of Panama.

Bethancourt inherits the reins of a pretty nice pitching rotation, and he’s certainly paid his dues to get this far:  despite still being only 23-1/2 years old (6’2″/205), he has been in the organization since being signed as an international free agent in 2009.  It takes a while to get here when you sign as a 16- or 17-year-old, but that’s how far away these Caribbean kids are being projected.

Bethancourt has long been known for defense, particularly a quick-releasing strong arm.  In AA ball during 2012-13, 32 runners attempted steals.  Only 19 were successful. Even in the majors, he did well here:  5 runners cut down against 10 successes, a 33% kill rate.

The only knock I can point to is that CBeth tends to be a bit “lazy” in securing pitches, which results in advancing runners.  In those 31 major league contests during 2014, he yielded 6 passed balls.  He does tend to block significantly better than that: 9 wild pitches.  By contrast, Gattis gave up just 5 PB’s in his 93 games of 2014… though a very-high 50 WPs.

For comparison purposes, both catchers need to look to the standard-bearer:  Yadier Molina.  In 107 games last year, just 3 passed balls and 22 wild pitches.  Those numbers have never been above 8 and 46 in his career.

Bethancourt has traditionally struggled at the plate, but with a change in approach in 2013, suddenly “got it” as a hitter.  His average jumped from .243 to .277 and hit 12 homers after never exceeding 5 in any season prior.  In AAA during 2014, he hit .283 with 8 jacks, so the change seems to stick with him.  He had less success (.248) during his first month in Atlanta, but that’s hardly unexpected.

Bethancourt is also pretty nimble and will steal a few bases for you – not stumbling about like Brian McCann would, but in this case, CBeth actually looks like an actual athlete.

Projection:  should be the primary catcher for 4-5 years, then a useful backup for any team thereafter.  He’s still young, though there is already a lot of mileage on his knees, so it’s hard to figure that he’ll be able to continue as a full-time backstop into his 30’s.

ETA to majors:  Right now.  He is the starting catcher for the Atlanta Braves.