Thanks to Hueytaxi for the photo. Great picture.
#18 Javier Betancourt: 5'10", 173 lbs., MIF
I won't make much of Gulf Coast League (GCL) stats, but Betancourt's advanced bat-to-ball skills certainly showed up here with a minuscule 6.8 strikeout percentage, only whiffing 14 times in 205 plate appearances. Like I have said before, the GCL is a mix of high school kids, younger foreign guys, and older Dominicans. It is essentially mid-major college ball, with a ton of raw tools. It's hard to glean a lot from these numbers, as they do not really correlate with either major or minor league performance.
Projected 2014 Level: Low-A West Michigan
Thanks to James Chipman for the video. This was shot at fall instructs.
Ho-hum. What do we have here? Another Tigers middle infield prospect from Venezuela. The Tigers have invested quite a lot of resources into Venezuela, that much is apparent. They do not make huge splashes in terms of money, but plenty of their signings range between $100,000 to $400,000 apiece. Betancourt is no different, as he was signed out of Venezuela for $200,000 in August of 2012. Betancourt has excellent bloodlines: Mets infielder Edgardo Alfonzo is his uncle. This has carried over into Betancourt's play in some sense, as he's certainly advanced for his age in terms of approach and attitude. Betancourt has plenty of baseball aptitude, and an excellent baseball IQ.
At the plate, Betancourt has an advanced approach, and knows the strike zone well, especially for an 18 year old. His crouched stance gives pitchers a small zone to work with. He does not try to do too much, as he knows his strengths and weaknesses. Betancourt is a line drive hitter with good swing plane. He keeps the barrel in the hitting zone for a long time, and features solid barrel control and accuracy. His bat-to-ball is solid, as is the hand-eye coordination, and for a kid who would be a freshman in college this upcoming year, the hit tool is certainly advanced. In terms of power, Betancourt does not project to hit for much. He has doubles power at current, and that's most likely the role that he'll continue in throughout his pro career. He will be more of a spray hitter, shooting line drives and gaps, and that is okay. Not everyone has to be Miguel Cabrera, and Betancourt certainly knows his role at the plate.
In the field, Betancourt is currently playing shortstop. I would wager that he ends up at second base in the near future. I don't believe he has the lateral quickness or range to stay at the most important position on the diamond. That limits his value just a bit, but second basemen who can hit for average are quite valuable. His arm is adequate, and his baseball smarts should help him with qualifying runners and positioning. He has the tools to be a solid average to slightly above second baseman. Betancourt is also an average runner as well.
In fact, Betancourt reminds me of a younger version of Tiger prospect Devon Travis, in a way. He has a bit more lateral quickness, but they have similar bat to ball ability, even though Travis has a bit more power projection. You will see Travis a few spots above Betancourt on this list, because even though he's four years older, his skills have materialized at the A and A+ level thus far. I do think that Betancourt ultimately has a bit higher of a ceiling in terms of hitting for average than Travis, and could play a better second base as well.
Compared to prospect Steven Fuentes -- who was #25 on my top 30 -- Betancourt doesn't quite feature the loud tools, but he is a much more complete player at present, and therefore has a higher floor. It would be a bit aggressive to place Betancourt in A-ball at this time, bu the Tigers have done so with advanced 19 year olds recently (his birthday is in May, so he'll be 19 for most of the season) with Hernan Perez in 2010, Nick Castellanos, Dixon Machado and Steven Moya in 2011, and Danry Vasquez in 2012 and 2013. I'm projecting a West Michigan arrival at some point this season -- maybe even to start it -- because the organization has placed young, relatively advanced prospects in the Midwest League before.
Betancourt is certainly intriguing, and as his results start to materialize in the low minors, he may be vaulted into the top 10. The position that the Tigers probably have the most depth is at second base, with Perez, Travis, Castro, and Betancourt. Even Eugenio Suarez may be better suited there provided that Iglesias is the shortstop of the future. You won't be surprised to see that all of those prospects aside from Travis hail from one country: Venezuela.