Vizcaino to miss '12 after Tommy John surgery
No. 2 Braves prospect had avoided operation in 2010 with rest
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Arodys Vizcaino was not fortunate enough to again avoid Tommy John surgery. Dr. James Andrews performed the season-ending elbow reconstruction operation on the Braves' heralded pitching prospect on Tuesday morning.
Vizcaino -- rated by MLB.com as the Braves' second-best prospect and the 36th-best prospect in the game -- avoided surgery during the latter portion of the 2010 season when the Braves diagnosed him with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. After examining the same ligament on Monday, Andrews determined the 21-year-old pitcher would need more than simply rest and rehab this time.
After resting for six weeks in 2010, Vizcaino went to the instructional league and was throwing 98-mph fastballs. His elbow did not begin bothering him again until this year. He did not return to pitch after experiencing elbow discomfort during his March 3 appearance against the Tigers.
"As long as the player is functional and not having any major difficulties, you don't want to go in and do something until it gets to that point," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "That's where we are.
"There's guys that have ligaments that don't look good on MRI and they play their whole career. Greg Maddux's ligament was, from what I've been told, one of the worst-looking ligaments they have seen. But he continued to pitch and it never really became a problem."
Vizcaino will spend this season rehabbing with the hope that he will be ready to begin pitching again around the start of the 2013 season. He came to Spring Training with the hope of regaining the Major League bullpen role he held for the final two months of the 2011 season.
The Braves converted Vizcaino to a relief role in July after moving him from Class A Advanced Lynchburg to Double-A Mississippi. The club then quickly promoted him to Triple-A Gwinnett before putting him in the big league bullpen in early August.
"Our early thoughts were that he was on the bubble to go to Triple-A or make our club," Wren said. "That was our early thought coming into Spring Training. We're still looking at how the bullpen sets up."
Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, Kris Medlen and Cristhian Martinez are all projected to begin the season in the bullpen. Cory Gearrin, Adam Russell, Jose Asencio and Anthony Varvaro are competing for the final two spots.
Braves like Medlen's value out of the 'pen
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Braves will allow Kris Medlen to continue conditioning like a starter with a five-inning outing in a Minor League game on Friday. But the plan remains for him to begin the regular season in the bullpen.
"That's always been our plan because he sets up our bullpen very well," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He makes our bullpen much better because of his versatility and his ability to get lefties and righties out, better than most guys."
Medlen has pitched effectively while preparing for the possibility that an injury or another unforeseen development could force him to a starting role. He limited the Mets to one hit in four scoreless innings on Saturday and has allowed one run in eight innings this exhibition season.
But with either Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran available to serve as a starter at least until Tim Hudson returns, the Braves believe Medlen's versatility will prove more valuable in the bullpen. Along with having the ability to pitch multiple innings, Medlen could occasionally be used in a setup role to give Eric O'Flaherty or Jonny Venters a chance to rest.
"He's pitched very well," Wren said. "That's what we expected coming in. We think he's a very valuable guy, as well. We're not overlooking the fact that he is a valuable guy. With the way our club is structured, we think he is more valuable for us in the bullpen, because we think he can impact more games than as a starter."
Backstop Bethancourt opening eyes with arm
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Catcher Christian Bethancourt impressed when he hit five home runs in 72 at-bats during the Arizona Fall League. While competing in Grapefruit League games over the past couple of weeks, he has proved why he is truly considered one of the game's top prospects.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who won four Gold Glove Awards during his catching days, was certainly impressed on Monday when he clocked Bethancourt's throw to second base at 1.75 seconds. The Braves actually clocked their prospect's throw at 1.84 seconds. Either way, the time puts Bethancourt in a special category.
"The quickest I've seen is probably around 1.8," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "I've heard of guys being in the 1.7 [range], and Bethancourt being one of those guys. Also, Pudge Rodriguez [is in that range]. But beyond that, I haven't seen that."
Bethancourt, who ranks seventh among MLB.com's best catching prospects, will likely begin this season with Double-A Mississippi. The 20-year-old catcher could eventually be the successor to Brian McCann, whose contract expires at the end of the 2013 season.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Bethancourt was also clocked at 1.84 with a throw he made during a March 5 game against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla.
"We haven't seen that very often, that kind of talent," Gonzalez said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.