Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt's name is no stranger to this blog. That's because I believe in the potential.
General manager Frank Wren's comments on Bethancourt spell out a similar belief in the athletic receiver.
Bethancourt is once again a top 100 prospect after ranking 82nd on MLB.com's list a few days ago, and 87th on Baseball Prospectus' list today. Being ranked in the top 100 is a high honor for a prospect, and Bethancourt has proven worthy with his tools and ceiling.
"He’s a young catcher that has been talked about throughout baseball," Wren said. "He’s a top 100 prospect again this year, and he’s been one of the best young defensive catchers in all of baseball."
What I wrote on Bethancourt earlier this offseason:
"Bethancourt took a step forward in his second trip to Double-A, and a big reason is a swing that has smoothed out some over the past couple years. The 6-2 catcher is known as a defense-first receiver, as he displays an elite arm with good footwork at release; he also has improved upon his receiving skills, and I've been told his footwork on blocking balls isn't as lackadaisical now as I saw in the lower minors.
"But Bethancourt's bat has improved to the point where he held his own at Double-A, which is a big test for minor league hitters. He showed a little more loft in his swing and didn't push the bat through the zone quite as much, using a better load and more wrist action. It hasn't been a complete fix; Bethancourt still pushes the bat some, and I noticed he tends to cheat inside more than he should. He also leaves his body in the box a touch more against right-handed pitchers than left-handers, an indication that he doesn't feel as comfortable against righties. But if you saw Bethancourt in the lower levels compared to his time this season, the progress is evident."
Wren attributed Bethancourt's improved season at the plate in 2013 to a turnaround moment in May.
"Last year, I think in May, he kind of had an awakening in Double-A where he realized what he was doing wasn’t good enough," Wren said. "The second half of the season, he was a tremendous offensive player at the Double-A level. We saw what we had hoped to see."
Evan Gattis has a hold on the starting catcher spot now, especially considering he's probably the best defensive catcher on the big league roster, even ahead of Gerald Laird. But the plan from the time Bethancourt was introduced to professional baseball at 16 years old in 2008 was for the Panamanian to be Atlanta's catcher of the future. That moment is closer than ever, and he should see time in Atlanta at some point in 2014.
"When he shows he’s ready, he’s going to be our catcher for a long, long time, and we’re excited because we’ll have one of the best defensive catchers," Wren said. "He can really throw and receive, and he’s a very athletic guy."