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Braves eager for Bethancourt's bat to catch up

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Highly regarded catching prospect Christian Bethancourt has read and heard comments made by those who question his ability to hit at the Major League level. Over the course of this year, he is hoping to silence these doubters.

"It's no secret that I have to work on my offense," Bethancourt said. "I was working on it in the winter and in Panama, too. I am here to show what I can do."

Bethancourt reported to Spring Training with some muscle added to a frame that has gone from 198 to 212 pounds over the past year. More importantly, the strong-armed 21-year-old came to camp with a swing that looks a little different than the one he showed while hitting .243 with a .291 slugging percentage with Double-A Mississippi last year.

"That swing has gotten better," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "When you listen to the reports and hear the guys talk, they always talk about his swing and say he's not ready yet. But just watching batting practice and the four at-bats I saw in winter ball, I think there is improvement there."

Bethancourt's season ended on Aug. 10 when a pitch broke his left hand during his 13th inning at-bat. By late October, he was pain-free and able to concentrate on refining his offensive approach.

While playing in the Dominican Winter League, Bethancourt did not produce encouraging results. He hit just .224 with a .522 OPS in 22 games.

Now a few more months removed from the broken hand, Bethancourt is hoping this will be the year his body matures to help him show what he is capable of with the bat. With the strong possibility that this could be Brian McCann's final year with the Braves, Bethancourt could be Atlanta's starting catcher as early as next year. While there is no doubt he is ready from a defensive standpoint, the Braves would like to see him make some strides offensively.

"I'm here to play baseball, show them what I can do, and then they have to make decisions," Bethancourt said.