Starting - Brian McCann was the epitomy of the Braves season in 2011. His first half numbers looked like video game numbers, .310/.381/.514 with 15 homers and 50 RBI. He was elected as the starter of the All-Star game, and rightfully so! There were numerous discussions as McCann in the heat of the MVP voting at the time. McCann, however, succumbed to the offensive struggles of the rest of the team in the second half, losing time to injury and hitting a paltry .203/.301/.384 the second half as the Braves offense sputtered to missing the playoffs. Brian still ends up the season as one of the best catchers currently in the game, and he's just 28 for the 2012 season. Brian has an $8.5M option that he is playing under for 2012 and a $12M option for 2013. The Braves will face a tough decision this year as Brian already has 840 games of catching wear and tear on his body, and 2011 was the first season Brian was unable to play at least 130 games in his career. It would be wise for the team to possibly wait it out for this seaon before extending McCann to see how his body holds up. Was 2011's injury a sign of things to come, or a simple aberration?
In reserve - David Ross is one of the highest-regarded backup catchers in the entire league, and he did nothing to dissuade that opinion in 2011, even in his worst season as a Brave thus far. He hit .263/.333/.428 while being more than a capable fill in for McCann. Ross is signed through next year, and it may be time at the end of 2012 to consider a new route for backup receiver. As good as Ross has been, he's going to spend 2012 as a 35 year-old catcher, and last season saw some major changes in his peripherals at the plate that could be concerning. While any player in a 150 plate appearance sample could have some aberrations, Ross had been so consistent that last year's numbers do raise concern. Ross had been a 13.5-14% bb/PA guy, but he slipped to 9% in 2011. His K rate, which had some fluctuation, but was typically right around 20% spiked to 30% in 2011. Much like McCann, these changes could be a sign of the end or just a blip on the radar. Regardless, we need to keep a good eye on our catchers in 2012.
On the way - Christian Bethancourt has seemingly been on the prospect radar for years, and he has received mixed reviews for his effort along the way, but the talent has always been evident. In his age 19 season he hit .303 in low-A and recovered after initially struggling in a promotion to A+ ball, hitting .271. Those numbers, however, deceive what Bethancourt really did at those levels. On the season, Bethancourt walked a total of 11 times in 410 plate appearances for a paltry 2.7% walk rate. His K rate isn't terrible at 15%, but with a walk rate that low, it sticks out terribly to see a 11/62 bb/k ratio. Bethancourt has tremendous defensive skill, considered one of the fastest "pop-up" times in the entire major and minor leagues, but he will go as far as his bat matures. He will likely start the season repeating A+ ball at Lynchburg, and if he can show some offensive promise in the first half, he could be a candidate to move to AA. I love Bethancourt's toolset, especially defensively. I can absolutely see a Yadi Molina-esque player in the future, but one of the things about Yadi that has held him so well as a professional on offense is that he only walks about 5% of the time, but he also only K's about the same rate. Bethancourt will tell us all very quickly where his future lies with how he responds at the plate, and not with his batting average, but the OTHER things he does at the plate offensively.