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Braves NRI In-Depth: Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, And Matt Kennelly

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Just 20 years old, Christian Bethancourt is one of the most promising players in the Atlanta farm system.
Just 20 years old, Christian Bethancourt is one of the most promising players in the Atlanta farm system.

Spring Training means lots of pitchers, and lots of pitchers require lots of catchers, and this year the Braves will have a promising young trio of backstops spending time with the Major League team during Spring Training. Christian Bethancourt is one of the team's top prospects, and he had a solid 2011, beginning the year by hitting .303 with a .753 OPS, 4 homers and 33 RBI in 235 plate appearances for Low A Rome, then moving up to High A Lynchburg, where he slumped to a .271 average, a .603 OPS, and 20 RBI in 175 plate appearances before and ankle injury ended his season in late August. Bethancourt further established his prospect status in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .306 with a .880 OPS, 5 homers, and 13 RBI in 72 at bats for the Surprise Saguros, a feat made more impressive by the fact that he did it as the league's second youngest player at 20 years old. He possesses an absolute rocket for an arm, shutting down opposing running games occasionally on reputation alone. He's been criticized for his lack of maturity and work ethic at times, but seems to have turned a corner in that regard. He's going to return to Lynchburg to start 2012, and with his youth and Brian McCann's presence in Atlanta, the team can afford to be patient with his development.

Evan Gattis is the definition of an unconventional prospect. Already 25 years old, he has yet to play above Low A, due in part to a four year hiatus from the game that saw living out of his car and ending up in a drug rehab center. With those experiences behind him, Gattis has not only become a mature team leader, but also a dangerous hitter, rapping out 24 doubles, 22 homers, and 71 RBI in 377 plate appearances. His .322 batting average and .986 OPS would have led the league if he had qualified. Unfortunately, his defense isn't anywhere near as promising. Pitchers like that he offers a big target behind the plate, but he's awkward and bulky back there, with hard hands and a slow throwing motion toward second base. He's going to have to work hard to prove he can play defense well enough to stick at catcher, where his bat will be much more valuable. Because Bethancourt is going to be with Lynchburg, Gattis will likely be skipped up to AA Mississippi so that he can catch every day and refine his game. That will be a tall order, having to prove himself both at and behind the plate against while skipping a level, but if anyone can overcome adversity, it's Gattis.

Matt Kennelly often gets overlooked, because he doesn't have any outstanding tools, but he has a great chance to have a long career in the Majors as a backup catcher. The Australian native has moved slowly and steadily through the organization, spending 2011 with Mississippi, and while his .262/.347/.328/.675 slash line isn't impressive, it's much better than his career line of .243/.308/.334/.642. Kennelly just finished playing winter ball earlier this week, after his Perth Heat won the Australian Baseball League championship. He excelled in the ABL, hitting .297 with a .817 OPS, 6 homers, and 25 RBI in 165 at bats. He is a good defensive catcher with an accurate arm, and pitchers love his attitude and the way he calls a game. He'll move up to AAA Gwinnett in 2012, where he'll likely continue his slow, steady improvement.