Braves Prospect Primer: Bethancourt's ready

Mature 22-year-old catcher set to step into spotlight behind the plate

Christian Bethancourt jumped from Double-A to Atlanta to make his MLB debut last September. (Ed Gardner/Mississippi Braves)

By Tyler Maun / | March 31, 2014 10:00 AM ET

Some players are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and still others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. With the 2014 season approaching, takes a look at the most intriguing prospects from each MLB organization.

Major League-ready: Christian Bethancourt, C

Not only is catcher Christian Bethancourt impressing the Atlanta Braves organization with the way he's calling and receiving games, he's doing it in two languages.'s No. 82 prospect is ready for his closeup. Entering his seventh professional season and still just 22 years old, the backstop is on the verge of big things, according to Braves director of Minor League operations Ronnie Richardson.

"He's matured since the time we signed him as a young Panamanian at 16 years old," Richardson said. "He's a premium defender, works well with the pitchers, is very fluent in both English and Spanish now. We're very happy with his maturation process."

Even as a 12-year-old making a name for himself as part of Panama's entry in the 2004 Little League World Series, Bethancourt's skills were evident, and as a professional, his defensive prowess has carried him. His organization believes Bethancourt, who debuted in the big leagues with a 10-game showing last September, is ready for primetime right now.

"He's got a plus-plus arm," said Richardson. "He can throw with the best of the catchers in the Major Leagues right now. He's very athletic behind the plate too. He really has good footwork and makes strong, accurate throws to the bases. He really separates himself with his athleticism."

Bethancourt is ticketed for Triple-A Gwinnett to open 2014, but appears to be on deck to inherit the catching mantle behind the plate in Atlanta.

Breakout prospect: Tommy La Stella, 2B

La Stella was lighting up college pitching through his first two years at Coastal Carolina before a 2011 NCAA rule change made the familiar "ping" of the college ranks disappear in favor of bats that behave more like wood. That did not matter much to La Stella.

"That was one of the things our scout said when we drafted him," Richardson said. "That was right around the time when they changed the bats in college. Our guys said that he was still able to drive the ball all over, even with that change."

The Braves selected La Stella in the eighth round that year with the second baseman coming off a Big South Player of the Year season and a second-team All-American selection. His bat has spoken loudly since.

A career .327 hitter with an impressive .908 OPS through three Minor League seasons, La Stella is poised to move up for the first time to Gwinnett, where he'll continue working on his defensive acumen. He'll bring the experience of his first Major League action with him.

"He had a chance to go to big league camp this year to really learn a lot about himself," Richardson said. "Not only that, but he learned a lot from the veteran players."

La Stella batted .255 in 20 games this spring with the big club. Despite a series of nagging injuries that have limited him to a career high of 90 games in a single season, La Stella is pushing the envelope to compete for the Braves' second-base job.

"His bat is there right now, and we really feel that he can be an average defender at the Major League level and contribute soon." 

At the crossroads: Edward Salcedo, 3B

It's been a long, and at times, challenging road for Salcedo. An investigation into an age discrepancy wiped away two years of potential playing time before he signed with Atlanta in 2010, but the third baseman is steadily climbing the ladder toward Turner Field and rewarding the Braves' patience.

Having signed for the largest foreign amateur deal in Braves history, Salcedo has clawed forward, reaching Double-A last year at 21 and holding his own. A defensive switch from shortstop to third base -- with Atlanta seemingly set for the long haul with Andrelton Simmons at short -- is still a work in progress. Salcedo led the Southern League with 29 errors in 2013.

Salcedo batted .239 in 132 games for Double-A Mississippi in 2013 and impressed at the plate in big league camp this year. In 20 at-bats, the 22-year-old batted .250 with a home run and three RBIs. He shows signs of plus power, having bashed 44 home runs through his first four Minor League seasons.

"Edward's continued to mature as well," Richardson said. "He was a Southern League All-Star last season, and he's really taken another step in his development.

Prospect Primer

"I think for Edward, as you look at a young guy, he's really started to come into his own. He's really started to figure a few things out."

More to keep an eye on: Top prospect Lucas Sims is the latest Georgia product the Braves discovered in their own backyard, one who should see his first action in the Class A Advanced Carolina League this season. … 2013 first-round pick Jason Hursh revs his fastball into the mid-90s and dominated with Class A Rome en route to a 0.67 ERA in 27 innings last season. … Kyle Wren, son of Braves GM Frank, swiped 35 bases in 53 games over three levels last year in his first professional campaign. … After a substantial stint in the big leagues last season, switch-hitting Joey Terdoslavich should be ready to return prepared in 2014, having rediscovered his stroke with a .318 average, .926 OPS and 18 home runs in 85 games at Gwinnett

Tyler Maun is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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