The Atlanta Braves have built their franchise through homegrown players the last few decades and that will need to continue if they hope to stay competitive in the coming years. With the franchise having limited means of financial growth, drafting, signing and developing young talent into big leaguers one day is a must for Atlanta.
The farm system is drying out a bit right now, but that is bound to happen when you graduate three elite prospects in the way of Tommy Hanson, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman in a matter of 33 months. Combine that with the departures of Randall Delgado and (eventually) Julio Teheran, and it's understandable for the Braves to not be as loaded as they once were.
For this week's Atlanta Braves Minor League Report, we'll examine two guys who could be destined for greatness one day, but also have a very high chance of never amounting into much.
Christian Bethancourt, Catcher
Bethancourt will not turn 21 until September, but he has been with the organization since 2008. Scouts absolutely love his defensive abilities behind the plate -- think Yadier Molina one day -- but he is yet to hit much of anything at the lower levels of the Minor Leagues.
The young catcher hit .289 last season while splitting time in A- and High-A Ball, but his OPS of .689 was pretty underwhelming. Now with the Mississippi Braves, he's batting just .248 with an OPS of .542. The jump to Mississippi is very tough on anyone (and especially a catcher still learning the ropes) but it would be nice to see some kind of production from him offensively.
Due to Bethancourt's age and that he's already in Double-A it seems foolish to give up on him as a prospect, but he'll need to start swinging the bat much better if he hopes to avoid a career of being a defensive backup behind the plate.
I have faith in the young catcher to continue improving both behind and at the plate, but a shift back down to High-A ball might not be the worst idea if his struggles continue.
Edward Salcedo, Third Base
The Braves signed Salcedo in February of 2010 for $1.6 million, which is the largest deal ever given by the club to an international free agent. At 6'3 and 200lbs he has the prototypical frame of a third baseman, and scouts were really intrigued about his potential to be a five-tool player down the road.
Salcedo got off to a great start while briefly playing in the Dominican Summer League, but struggled mightily the next few months as he came over to America to join the Rome Braves. He then spent the entire 2011 season with Rome, hitting .248/.315/.396. These numbers were a bit down from what folks expected, but Salcedo still showed plenty of pop with 27 doubles and 12 homers, all while stealing 23 bases in 33 attempts.
As you can see, the tools are definitely there.
Salcedo moved up to High-A Lynchburg this season and started out slowly, but he is starting to hit much better in recent weeks. His current slash line is .261/.302/.416, which isn't horrible for a 20-year-old still adjusting to professional baseball.
Defense (a.k.a. errors) have been an issue with Salcedo throughout his career, but reports also indicate he's better than those numbers suggest and that a lot of his miscues are simple mental mistakes that can be fixed with experience.
I personally have a lot of faith in Salcedo, but he really needs to work on his approach at the plate if he hopes to make it to the Major Leagues one day. He has just 65 walks in nearly 950 at-bats as a professional, which is not very good. Again though, Salcedo is just 20 years old and has shown signs of being an elite hitting prospect. That's definitely something the Braves would enjoy right now.
For more on the club's prospects, be sure to check out Talking Chop.