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Bethancourt making case as top catching prospect

KANSAS CITY -- Ardent Braves fans recognize Christian Bethancourt as Brian McCann's potential replacement in Atlanta. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is among those who recognize Bethancourt as one of the best young catchers they have seen.

Matheny, who won four Gold Glove Awards during his days as a catcher, marveled during a Spring Training game when he timed one of Bethancourt's throws to second base at an eye-opening 1.75 seconds. Others have indicated the strong-armed catcher has made some throws this year that have actually been slightly faster.

"He can catch and throw at the Major League level right now," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's that advanced. He's very athletic for a catcher. If you saw him walking around and didn't know who he was, you probably wouldn't think he was a catcher the way he is built."

Many fans got their first chance to see Bethancourt when he started at catcher for the World Team in Sunday afternoon's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. Rated the Braves' No. 4 prospect, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound athletic prospect went hitless in three at-bats and showed off his arm while prevented Astros prospect Jonathan Singleton from stealing second with two outs in the second inning.

Bethancourt, who was the Braves' only representative at this year's Futures Game, has been challenged offensively by the jump he made to the Double-A level this year. Through his first 52 games with Double-A Mississippi, the 20-year-old catcher has batted .254 with four extra-base hits -- three doubles and a triple -- and a .558 OPS.

While Bethancourt is seemingly ready to compete at the Major League level from a defensive perspective, it is obvious that he has plenty of room to improve his offensive abilities. He batted .271 with seven extra-base hits and a .703 OPS in the 45 games he played after being promoted to Class A Advanced Lynchburg last year.

"You just have to play the same baseball wherever you are and keep working hard every day," Bethancourt said.

There was some hope Bethancourt might make some advancements offensively after he hit five home runs in 72 at-bats while playing in the Arizona Fall League last year. But for now, it appears the young catcher will need some more time to give the Braves confidence that he is advanced enough offensively to put him behind the plate on a regular basis.

There is obviously a chance McCann will remain in Atlanta beyond the conclusion of the 2013 season. But there are many who believe he will test the free-agent market and choose to play for an American League team that will reward him financially and provide him a chance to serve as both a catcher and designated hitter.

With McCann set to turn 30 before the start of the 2014 season, the Braves likely may not be willing to provide the years or dollars offered by the AL teams that would not have to have him behind the plate to keep his bat in the lineup on a daily basis.

But while this debate wages, Bethancourt said he has not allowed himself to think about when he might arrive in Atlanta.

"I really don't think about that," Bethancourt said. "I just think about coming to the field to help my team and do the right things every day. If it does happen, then it happens."

The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.

Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on

Atlanta Braves, Christian Bethancourt