Christian Bethancourt ranks as the No. 2 prospect in the Atlanta Braves‘ organization behind Julio Teheran according to MLB.com. His high potential comes from his elite MLB defensive skills combined with an improving bat. Baseball America rated him as the best defensive catcher in the organization three of the last four seasons. Can the 21-year-old show enough this spring training to earn a spot on the 25-man rotation?
2012 Recap: Bethancourt suffered a setback with a fractured left hand that caused him to miss roughly half the 2012 season. Before the injury, he looked like a prospect that could use every at-bat he could get. His .243 average, .275 OBP and .566 OPS at Double-A Mississippi do not wow you by any stretch. Defensively, he’s on the other side of the spectrum as he threw out an impressive 19 of 30 runners that attempted to steal on him.
2013 Outlook: The Braves have Bethancourt on their 40-man roster this spring training, but obviously that doesn’t translate to a spot with the team come Opening Day. I’m sure Bethancourt would tell you it’s his goal to make the MLB team out of camp. However, at this point in his career I would label his chances as slim. I see the Braves going with two catchers to start the season as Brian McCann continues to rehab his shoulder. The Braves could decide to carry three catchers to allow slugger Evan Gattis more pinch-hit opportunities. This would increase Bethancourt as well as Matt Pagnozzi‘s chances. In the end, whether the Braves go two or three catchers, I see him beginning the year at Triple-A.
Bethancourt should view that as a good thing for his career. He needs to see more pitches, and he wouldn’t be able to get that sitting the bench in Atlanta. This is a big year for him. McCann will likely be gone after this season, which opens the door for the talented prospect. However, Gattis could also prove to be a starting catcher as he continues to maul at the plate. That makes the 2013 season important for Bethancourt to improve on his career .265 average and .297 OBP. Defensively, we know he’s ready. Offensively, he has to prove that he’s ready. This is the year for him to do it.