20 year-old catcher Christian Bethancourt is a tough nut to crack. He's fallen from grace on many prospect lists (dropping to ninth on this year's BA top ten), because he hasn't found consistency hitting, despite playing the 2011 season as a 19 year-old in full season ball. He started the year in Rome, and after a cold spell to start the year, caught fire and finished at .303/.323/.430 before getting called up to Lynchburg, where he finished his year struggling, finishing up at .271/.277/.325.
The major demerit on Bethancourt right now is his plate discipline. This season, he walked just 11 times in 410 plate appearances. That's not going to work in the long run, but hopefully, his plate discipline can improve as he ages. His power is also lacking, with a .096 ISO overall. That's also not really going to cut it, but he's still filling out his body, and that can improve with age.
The power question got answered a little bit in the AFL, where Bethancourt OPSed .880 in 74 plate appearances, homering five times (which is how many he hit in the entire regular season) and adding three doubles as well to give him an ISO of .250 in the fall - a massive improvement. But the plate discipline question remained. In those AFL games, Bethancourt walked just twice while striking out 17 times. The walks are consistent with his 2011 regular season totals, while the strikeouts spiked, probably due to Bethancourt attempting to impress and hit the ball more, along with the quality of pitching in the AFL.
There is no need for the Braves to rush Bethancourt, because there is a glut of young catching in the low minors. In addition to Bethancourt, the Braves system features guys like Ryan Delgado and Evan Gattis, both of whom have hit rather well during their careers. I'd personally like to see Bethancourt start the year at Lynchburg in 2012, and if he's able to succeed hitting, he can get promoted to Mississippi, much like the team did with him in 2011. Bethancourt spent all of 2010 in Rome and struggled offensively, and started there in 2011 as well before being promoted once he caught a spark.
I think Bethancourt can be a solid catcher in the bigs, but he needs to continue to develop his power and plate discipline. 2012 will be a big step forward for him, and I'd really like to see him develop his offensive game a little more. If he can do that, he can be a top 100 prospect in 2013.
Check out THT's projection for Bethancourt here
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