Braves' Vizcaino Shows Two Knockout Pitches

GREENSBORO, N.C.—If Yankees fans are already soured on the Javier Vazquez trade, the real pain might come a few years down the road.

Pitching for low Class A Rome on Saturday, Braves 19-year-old righthander Arodys Vizcaino reinforced his status as one of the game's top pitching prospects, overpowering Greensboro with a fastball that reached the mid-90s and an outstanding curveball that ranks among the best in the minors.

Vizcaino, who came to the Braves in the offseason deal that sent Vazquez to New York, struck out a career-high 10 batters in six innings and didn't walk anyone, allowing two runs, one of which was unearned. All 10 of Vizcaino's strikeouts were swinging, most of which were against his curveball.

"I thought he was in command from the get-go with all his pitches," Rome manager Randy Ingle said. "He was as strong at the end was he was at the beginning. His velocity stayed the same and his command stayed the same. At times, he was overpowering."

Listed at six feet, 189 pounds, Vizcaino has a strong, sturdy build, which he credits in part to his offseason regimen of running and throwing on the beaches of the Dominican Republic to develop his legs.

With a fluid delivery and a quick arm, Vizcaino generates easy velocity—sitting at 92-95 mph and touching 96—making the ball explode out of his three-quarters arm slot. Like any teenager in the South Atlantic League, Vizcaino is still refining his fastball command, but given his delivery and ability to throw strikes, there doesn't seem to be much concern.

While Vizcaino's fastball is at least a plus pitch, his curveball is his best offering, a wicked 80-83 mph bender with nasty bite. Vizcaino was brutal to hit against once he got to a two-strike count, showing the ability to change the hitter's eye level by getting him to chase a high 94-95 mph fastball or bury him with a sharp, late-breaking curveball.

"You've got to gear up a little bit for (his fastball), and then all of a sudden he breaks that hammer off," Ingle said. "Sometimes you just want to say it's unfair to have those two pitches."

While most teenagers at this level are still learning to throw their breaking ball for strikes, Vizcaino already has solid command of his curve.

"I can throw the curveball in any count," Vizcaino said through a translator. "I'm comfortable—3-1 count, 2-1 count—that I can throw the curveball for a strike."

Vizcaino threw just three changeups against Greensboro, one of which went to the backstop. Right now it's a distant third pitch, one he probably won't even need until he reaches the upper levels of the minors. Vizcaino admits he doesn't like to use his changeup much because, as he put it, "I just love to throw curveballs."

Hard to blame him.

Bethancourt A Two-Way Threat

Vizcaino's catcher is a pretty good prospect himself.

Christian Bethancourt, an 18-year-old from Panama, has the potential to be above-average as a hitter and a defender. Bethancourt is a good athlete who runs well for a catcher (though still below-average) with plenty of room to fill out his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame.

Through 22 games, the righthanded-hitting Bethancourt is batting just .221/.244./.302. He's still learning to drive the ball in the air, and against Greensboro he had some difficulties hitting offspeed stuff. Yet Bethancourt is also the second-youngest player in low Class A, and his potential at the plate and on defense is clear.

"You look at his raw ability, you look at bat speed, he's got power potential and he's going to get stronger," Ingle said. "He uses the whole field. He's got a decent idea on his approach at the plate and he's even going to get better."

Bethancourt's best tool is his arm, a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale that is enhanced by his ability to get rid of the ball quickly, which is why he has already caught nine of the 21 runners (43 percent) attempting to steal against him. Bethancourt isn't bashful about showing off his arm either, making several snap throws behind the Greensboro runners to try to catch them wandering too far off the bag on their secondary leads.

"He's beyond his time," Ingle said. "I don't think anybody can match his arm—he's got a cannon for an arm. He's still got things to work on behind the plate—blocking balls and things like that—but he's getting better at calling games."