Bethancourt opens eyes in Arizona

Do the Braves have an elite prospect in Christian Bethancourt?

There may be nothing more valuable in baseball than a great catching prospect. It seems to give teams more options than just having a regular infield or outfield prospect.

Christian Bethancourt could be developing into a great catching prospect after his time in the Arizona Fall League.

The 20-year-old Panamanian hit .306 with 5 home runs and 13 RBI in 72 at bats against great competition in the AFL. He also had 3 doubles, 3 stolen bases and a .324 on base percentage.

That performance comes after he hit .303 in Rome in 54 games last season and then .271 in Lynchburg in 45 games. Bethancourt had a combined 5 home runs and 53 RBI in his two minor league stops.

And Bethancourt's defense has always been his calling card. He's a rangy kid and has a rocket arm, with a tremendous pop time to second base. Bethancourt is also improving in calling a game. The kid has learned English so he can better communicate with his pitchers.

The Braves will strongly consider sending Bethancourt to Double-A to start the 2012 season. They could determine he needs a bit more time in the Carolina League, but Bethancourt's performance in the AFL will allow them to monitor Bethancourt closely in spring training to see how close he is to being ready for Double-A.

Atlanta has one of the best catchers in baseball in Brian McCann, who turns 28 in February. He's a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger winner. McCann is under contract for 2012 and there is a team option for 2013. While that might not sound that McCann's contract is an imminent concern, it is probably something the Braves are going to have to start thinking about.

The presence of Bethancourt might at least make the issue more interesting, especially if Bethancourt does well in Double-A. But McCannn has proven to be a very valuable player for this franchise, so his future is important to the team.

As for now, Bethancourt is still only a prospect, albeit a very good one. His showing in the AFL has more people watching his progress, and again, there's nothing much more valuable than having a great catching prospect.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, GA and WCOH Fox Sports 1400 in Newnan, GA. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at and follow him on Twitter at

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