Scouting Report: Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt had arguably the most impressive tools in the South Atlantic League this season. With a .253/.280/.332 line, the production has obviously not matched the skill set as Bethancourt struggled in his first taste of full season baseball. At 18, Bethancourt is likely to repeat the “Sally” in 2011 to continue working on his offense and receiving skills. However, Bethancourt’s arm is big league ready and could quickly become the stuff of legend.
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Physical Projection: Bethancourt has a lean upper and lower body with moderate development through his core. And while he should fill out some through natural maturation, he doesn’t project to grow out of the position like many other 6’2″ catchers at the level. Bethancourt’s athletic physique and fluid movements speak extremely well to his being able to remain behind the dish long term.
Beyond catching, Bethancourt’s athleticism permeates through the rest of his game as well. While extremely rough around the edges, the bat speed, power potential, and foot speed are there to project significant offensive growth. Of players I’ve seen this season, Bethancourt has the largest gap between tools and performance of any prospect I’ve seen.
Offense: Possessing excellent bat speed, Bethancourt is able to whip the bat head through the zone even though his mechanics seem to be in constant opposition of his natural ability. With a bad step-in-the-bucket and a swing which is pull hand dominant, the present bat speed he has could become elite with a few mechanical tweaks. Multiple scouts have gone out of their way to mention the power Bethancourt shows in batting practice. And while it’s a long way from showing up in game action due to so-so pitch recognition, and his aforementioned mechanics, a significant spike in power can be expected at some point.
While his pitch selection is not particularly strong, Bethancourt’s strike out rate is very low for international players his age. He has also shown the ability to adjust to breaking pitches. As “Sally” Mets pitchers recognized his stepping in the bucket, they began feeding him a steady dose of outside pitches. From reading an update on his development from contributor Chris Blessing and catching Bethancourt in person in late August, he has definitely quieted his load some which is a definite positive.
Defense: Between innings, I clocked multiple throwing times in the 1.8′s from Bethancourt which is pretty unheard of. His best time, 1.83 seconds, leaves me frustrated with the 20-80 scale because I can’t award bonus points. If asked the single most impressive tool I’ve ever seen in minor league baseball, it would be a toss up between Bethancourt’s arm strength and Mike Stanton’s in game power. It would not surprise me one bit if Bethancourt could touch triple digits from the mound and I’d rate his arm strength ahead of former teammates Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino.
The rest of his defensive game is spotty at best as I’ve personally seen about ten balls scoot by him in game action. Bethancourt seems especially susceptible on pitches to his backhand side as his glove simply looked lazy. He also sticks balls awfully hard when trying to frame strikes. As Bethancourt matures, his receiving will need to be smoothed out considerably and I’d rate his glove work as below average.
Currently, I suspect immaturity and work ethic are holding him back a bit and he’s relying solely on athletic ability. At 18, Bethancourt is playing full season baseball as a big bonus international free agent when most American baseball players are seniors in high school. I think it’s important to understand Bethancourt is still a teenager and may have some growing pains as he adjusts and matures.
Speed: I was shocked to pull a 65 running time (4.15 seconds) on the 20/80 scale off of video. Even if this isn’t the norm and Bethancourt is a tenth of a second slower on average, it still leaves him with elite speed for the catching position. He’s 8/11 in stolen base attempts this season and could probably swipe 15-20 per year if allowed.
While Christian Bethancourt is a boom or bust prospect behind the plate, his floor is higher than most “toolsheds” due to the possibility of his being moved to the mound should catching not work out. In 2011, Bethancourt will likely spend at least half the season back in Rome to continue his development. He is years away from Atlanta, but his ceiling is that of an All-Star catcher. However, Bethancourt has, and will continue to draw mixed reviews from scouts and is ending the season as one of the most polarizing prospects in the league.
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