LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Top Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt has drawn praise from coaches and team officials for an improved hitting approach. “I think he’s grasped the stuff that Walk (Greg Walker) and (minor league hitting coordinator) Don Long wanted him to do, and he’s taken it and run with it and done a good job,” general manager Frank Wren said.
The Braves will need a backup to catcher Gerald Laird for until Brian McCann is ready, and the strong-armed Bethancourt could get consideration if he has a strong spring. McCann is expected to miss the first two or three weeks while he completes a six-month rehab from shoulder surgery.
Non-roster invitees Evan Gattis (who can also play left field), Tom Pagnozzi and Jose Yepez are possibilities along with Bethancourt. Although Bethancourt, 21, is on the 40-man roster, he hasn’t played above Double-A and the Braves might decide he should play every day in the minors rather than spend two or three weeks mostly riding the big-league bench. He struggled (.243/.275/.291 with two homers in 288 plate appearances) during an injury-plagued 2012 season at Double-A Mississippi, and missed time with a strained hamstring early and a broken hand late.
Bethancourt hit .224 (13-for-58) with three doubles, no homers and a .246 OBP in the Dominican Winter League, where he was much younger than most other players.
"That swing has gotten better," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That’s always been the thing. When you listen to the reports and listen to the guys talk about it, they always talk about the swing, how the swing is not ready yet. But just watching BP and watching the four at-bats I saw of him in winter ball, I think there’s improvement there .
“What’s he now, a 22-, 21-year-old kid? So that’s good. Catching and throwing has never been a problem."