Sims, Bethancourt land on Top 100 Prospects list
Teenage right-hander ranked 60th, while 22-year-old catcher comes in at No. 82
ATLANTA -- A spotlight has shone on Lucas Sims since the Braves selected him in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. But the 19-year-old right-handed pitcher will now have to deal with the added attention that comes with being considered one of baseball's top pitching prospects.
Sims ranks 60th on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, which was revealed Thursday night. The only other Braves representative on this list is catcher Christian Bethancourt, who was ranked 82nd.
Bethancourt, who also ranks as MLB.com's sixth-best catching prospect, returns to this list for the first time since 2012. Julio Teheran stood as the only Braves representative on this list last year.
The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.
"It's cool and it's an honor," Sims said of being included on many recent prospect lists. "People mention it on Twitter and you can't avoid it. But it's not my ultimate goal. My ultimate goal is to get up here and help [the Braves] win a World Series."
Born one year before the Braves last won the World Series, Sims spent his youthful days in suburban Atlanta gaining a fond appreciation for the hometown team. He attended his first game at Turner Field when he was just 3 years old and still considers John Smoltz to be the player he has most idolized.
Like Smoltz, Sims possesses a plus fastball that should prove to be even more consistent now that he has started to add muscle to his thin 6-foot-2, 220-pound frame. On the way to going 12-4 with a 2.62 ERA in the 28 appearances he made for Class A Rome last year, he felt he grew mentally and gained a better understanding of what he needed to do to prepare to make a start once every five days.
"He does a lot of things that a lot of the good ones do," Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno said.
As the Braves began devising a plan for Sims during Spring Training last year, they determined they would not necessarily need to send him to the Rookie Level Danville club. Former Braves Minor League pitching coordinator and current Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace decided Sims would begin the season as a reliever with Rome and then move into a starting role at some point in May.
"We wanted to use the proper progression for him to give him the best chance to be successful," Manno said. "So we brought him along slowly. Once he became a starter, he just continued to climb and get better and better."
Sims compiled a 2.38 ERA and limited opponents to a .215 batting average in the 16 starts he made from June 6-Sept. 1. He allowed just two earned runs and 12 hits in the 22 2/3 innings that he completed during his last four starts of the regular season.
"That ability to keep improving is another factor that separates the real good ones," Manno said. "He was able to be on that climb. It's exciting. When you look at him physically now in comparison to the day we signed him, you can see the growth. He's maturing physically. He's really going to be a strong kid. He's going to be a good one."
While Sims has only recently been mentioned among the game's top prospects, Bethancourt has been recognized as one of the game's top catching prospects for a few years. The athletic 22-year-old backstop created more doubt about his offensive credentials when he hit .243 with two home runs and a .566 OPS in 71 games with Double-A Mississippi in 2012.
But when given a chance to prove himself at the Double-A level again last year, the strong-armed catcher provided some encouragement about his offensive potential at the big league level. In the 90 games he played with Mississippi last summer, Bethancourt hit .277 with 12 home runs and a .741 OPS.
Given his tremendous defensive skills, which drew rave reviews from former Gold Glove catcher and current Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after a Spring Training game two years ago, Bethancourt does not have to develop into a great offensive player to be valuable at the Major League level. But since he has drawn only one walk every 22.8 plate appearances during his professional career, he could certainly benefit from the chance to spend more time refining his skills with Triple-A Gwinnett this year.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.