SL notes: Bethancourt busting out

M-Braves backstop continues to shine with retooled swing

Christian Bethancourt is batting .288 with the help of a 38-game on-base streak. (Ed Gardner)

By Guy Curtright / Special to | August 13, 2013 6:00 AM ET

As soon as Christian Bethancourt's broken left hand healed last fall, the Atlanta Braves began to retool the catcher's swing.

There was never any question about the native of Panama's ability behind the plate.

"He can catch and throw at the Major League level right now," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said during Spring Training of 2012.

But at the end of a Double-A season cut short a year ago, it was obvious that Bethancourt was a long way from being able to hit Major League pitching. That's why the Braves went to work on the 21-year-old and, after some ups and downs, the results have been dramatic the last two months at Mississippi.

Bethancourt was 4-for-4 with two homers Sunday against Jackson, extending his hitting streak to 14 games and his on-base streak to 38 -- tying the Mississippi record.

"He made some pretty dramatic changes mechanically, and it took him a while to get comfortable," Atlanta general manager Frank Wren said. "But he's comfortable now and has been really impressive in the second half."

Since his on-base streak began June 13, Bethancourt is batting .333 (50-for-150) with an OPS of .954 thanks to an on-base percentage of .367 and a slugging mark of .587. The first two-homer games of his career have come in the past month. The Braves' No. 3 prospect has failed to get a hit in just five of the 38 games, and that he still reached base safely in them also shows just how far he has come.

"Walks haven't been his strong suit, but he's getting better," Wren said.

Bethancourt drew just 11 walks in 71 games with Mississippi last year, but that really wasn't his biggest failing. He also had only eight extra-base hits while hitting .243. A year later, the right-handed batter has 28 extra-base hits, including 10 homers, in 75 games while lifting his average to .288.

"I try to get better every day and every year," said Bethancourt, who began attempting his makeover as a hitter in the Dominican Winter League. "I've been working hard and making a lot of progress."

The on-base streak is something Bethancourt wasn't even aware of as it built and built.

"I didn't know until they showed me," he said. "I try not to think about it, but it shows that I have been hitting better."

Defense, though, remains Bethancourt's calling card. He has a cannon for an arm and cat-quick reflexes behind the plate.

"He's very athletic," said Gonzalez, who was impressed by the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder again this Spring Training.

The streaks that Bethancourt keeps track of our blocking balls in the dirt and nabbing runners trying to steal. His rate throwing out runners, though, is down to 34 percent this year after he caught 39 percent last season.

"The main thing is my defense," Bethancourt said. "I keep trying to get better, and I'm starting to put everything together -- blocking pitches, calling the game, throwing out runners."

With Brian McCann becoming a free agent after this season, the future behind the plate in Atlanta might be Evan Gattis, who is having a breakout rookie season, and Bethancourt.

Bethancourt played in the All-Star Futures Game for the second straight year this season, but the selections were based mostly on forecasted potential. Now he is living up to his early billing.

Will Bethancourt be ready to step up to Atlanta next season if needed?

"I'm trying to get there as soon as possible," Bethancourt said. "But I've got to get ready before I get there. That is what I'm trying to do."

In brief

Not HR or nothing: Although Tennessee shortstop Javier Baez didn't homer during the first nine games of August, he batted .375 (15-for-40).'s No. 10 prospect hit just .221 while belting 11 homers in his first 23 games with the Smokies after moving up from Class A Advanced Daytona. Baez, the Chicago Cubs' top prospect, smacked 17 homers in 76 Florida State League games, giving him a combined 28 for the season through Sunday. Overall, he is hitting .272 with 87 RBIs in 108 games.

Still getting his hits: After Mississippi second baseman Tommy La Stella had his team-record hitting streak snapped at 23 games in Huntsville last Tuesday, Atlanta's No. 14 prospect bounced back to hit safely in his next five games. He is batting .338 through 62 games after going hitless Sunday and has a chance to qualify for the Southern League title despite a late start to the season and a trip to the disabled list. Mobile outfielder Justin Greene leads the league with a .323 average through Sunday.

Mowing them down: Montgomery right-hander Jacob Thompson allowed just three hits and an unearned run over seven innings at Tennessee on Saturday en route to winning his fourth straight start and tying for the Southern League lead with 11 victories. He has allowed just four earned runs over 29 1/3 innings during the streak, improving to 11-9 with a 4.14 ERA. Thompson struggled most of the first three months of the season but has an ERA under 2.00 for July and August.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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