The Braves don't have a wealth of great catching prospects, but they do have one outstanding one in 19 year old Christian Bethancourt.
The Braves are fortunate enough to have the best catching combo in the Major Leagues, with perennial All-Star and Silver Slugger Brian McCann, the heart of the team, and more than capable backup David Ross, so their need for catching prospects, at least for the next few years, is minimal. That's fortunate, because catching is the weakest position in the Braves Minor League system, with one great prospect and a collection of other backstops who profile best as fringe Major League backups.
1. Christian Bethancourt - B/T: R/R, Born: 9/2/91, Ht: 6'2", Wt: 175 - The Braves may only have one true catching prospect, but he's an outstanding one. Bethancourt's first full season wasn't filled with impressive stats, as he his .251 with a lowly .607 OPS in 420 at bats for Rome, but he oozes with potential. His arm, which grades out at the very top of the scout's 20 to 80 scale, is his most obvious tool. He threw out 39 percent of would-be basestealers this season, and by the end of the year teams had just stopped attemping to steal when he was catching. He is solid funamentally behind the dish, but still has a long way to go to at becoming smooth back there. He made 12 errors and had 15 passed balls, many of which caused by unrefined, bulky movement behind the plate. But, all the skills are there, and pitchers love the massive target he presents, so there's every reason to believe that Bethancourt will develop into an above average defensive catcher. His bat will take a while to develop, as he showed a complete inability to take a walk or drive the ball with authority this season. Like lots of tall players, his swing can get long, and he needs to work on the nuances of hitting as a professional, but he's had success before, hitting .277 with a .788 OPS in 187 plate appearance between Danville and the GCL in 2009. The most impressive thing about Bethancourt's 2010 season was that he was only 18 years old, making him several years younger than most of his competiton. He'll likely head back to Rome to start 2011, and even if he spends the entire season there he'll still be young for his league. With Brian McCann leading the Major League team, the Braves can afford to have the patience that's necessary to develop this burgeoning talent.
2. Jesus Sucre - B/T: R/R, Born: 4/30/88, Ht: 6'0", Wt: 200 - Sucre's 2010, got off to a rough start, as he hit just .220 with a weak .597 OPS in 200 plate apperances for Myrtle Beach, but he was somehow able to rebound after a promotion to AA, hitting .297 with a .729 OPS in 147 plate apperances for Mississippi. For his career, he hasn't been much of a hitter, with a .255 average and a .647 OPS in 1151 plate apperances over 5 seasons, and his biggest problem is his inability to take walks, with just a .287 career OBP. He is above average behind the plate though, throwing out 40 percent of base stealers for his career, and that means that if he can figure out to hit with a bit of success at the higher levels he could be a solid backup as a Major Leaguer. Sucre will return to Mississippi to start 2011, but will probably find himself in AAA at some point in the year, and possibly in the Majors at some point in the next few years at Atlanta's third catcher.
3. Ryan Delgado - B/T: R/R, Born: 1/11/88, Ht: 5'11", Wt: 215 - After being selected in the thirty-second round of this year's draft, Delgado had a fantastic debut, hitting .301 with a .859 OPS, 6 home runs and 24 RBI in 166 plate appearances for Danville. He uses a "chicken wing" motion, flapping his lead arm, to initiate his all or nothing swing, something that's likely to be exploited as he moves to the higher levels. His best attribute as a hitter, his agressiveness, is also his biggest weakness, and the Braves will look to develop his patience to make better use of his natural power. He's solid fundamentally behind the plate, but at best he's an average defender, so his success as a player is going to depend on his hitting. Delgado will likely head to Rome to start 2011, but at bats will be scarce with Christian Bethancourt getting the bulk of the playing time. He'll likely have to play some first base and DH, but since he'll be 23 when the season starts there's also a possibility he could end up at High A Lynchburg, splitting time with Matt Kennelly.