Top Prospects: Christian Bethancourt, C, Braves

ATLANTA -- Christian Bethancourt, the Braves' top catching prospect, will spend the next couple weeks acquainting himself with the Major League scene and reaping the rewards of a successful season with Double-A Mississippi.

After Mississippi was eliminated from the Southern League playoffs on Sunday, the club's manager Aaron Holbert asked Bethancourt to address his teammates about the season they had just shared together. Holbert then provided an unexpected surprise by informing Bethancourt that he had received his first call to the big leagues.

"It's pretty much the best thing in the world that I finally made it to the Majors," Bethancourt said. "When you grow up playing baseball and watching baseball, that's all that matters, to get to the Majors. When you get here, it's just a dream come true."

Bethancourt had already made plans for his family to pick him up at the airport in his native Panama on Tuesday afternoon. But now it appears his mother will be traveling to Miami on Tuesday to watch the remainder of this week's series between the Braves and Marlins.

With three catchers -- Brian McCann, Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis -- already on the roster, Bethancourt is not expected to get much playing time over the next couple of weeks. But he will at least have a chance to acquaint himself with the big league lifestyle.

Given the likelihood that McCann will go elsewhere as a free agent this winter, Bethancourt and Gattis are the most likely candidates to begin the 2014 season as Atlanta's starting catcher.

"We think the world of [Bethancourt] defensively," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's had a nice season offensively at Double-A. We'll bring him up here and just let him get some experience. Like I told him, I don't know if we'll get him some playing time or an at-bat. Since he's here, if we can plug him in somewhere, I'd like to do that. But we've got to take care of some other business first."

While the strong-armed and athletic Bethancourt has always been lauded for his defensive skills, his offensive potential has been questioned. But he showed more patience during the second half of this season, and he ended up hitting .271 with 12 homers and a .741 OPS in 90 games with Mississippi.

"The last few years I've been trying to be consistent defensively and offensively," Bethancourt said. "I think the hard work I've been doing for the last two, three or four years in the Braves' organization finally paid off. I'm really happy with the season I had. It could have been better. But it is what it is, and I'm happy."

Heyward to take batting practice Friday

CLE@ATL: Heyward discusses recovery from surgery

MIAMI -- It is still too early to know when Jason Heyward might return to Atlanta's lineup. But the Braves will get a better sense when Heyward completes what will be a relatively normal batting practice with his teammates before Friday night's game against the Padres at Turner Field.

"I think Friday will be clearly as close to normal as since he was hit," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "I don't think you will be able to tell much different from a normal pregame."

Heyward's activities and diets have been limited since his jaw was fractured by Mets left-hander Jon Niese's fastball on Aug. 21. But he has made progress over the past couple weeks and gained some relief on Monday, when the bars and bands that had been restricting the movement of his jaw were removed.

Heyward has been cleared to begin eating more solid foods. Wren said the strong 24-year-old outfielder has maintained his weight with the help of the team's chef, who has been preparing him meals.

When Heyward begins increasing his on-field baseball activities on Friday, he will be wearing a mouth guard that he was fitted for on Monday. Last week at Turner Field, he was seen wearing a batting helmet that had a face guard attached to it.

After getting a chance to evaluate Heyward for a few days, Wren said he would then decide when it would be best to send the outfielder to the instructional league to get the at-bats he will need to compile before making his return.

"I think we were cautiously optimistic he would get back to baseball activity sometime in September," Wren said. "It's progressing as we had hoped. I know it is progressing as he had hoped. I think everybody has the goal for him to get back for October. We'll just continue to see how he progresses."

Walden to throw bullpen session Tuesday

ATL@WSH: Walden strikes out the side in the eighth

MIAMI -- After spending the past few weeks sidelined with a sore groin, Jordan Walden has finally gained the confidence that he can complete his violent delivery without aggravating the injury.

Walden will gain a better understanding about where he stands when he completes a bullpen session at Marlins Park on Tuesday. This will mark the first time he has thrown off a mound since discomfort limited him to five pitches during a bullpen session he attempted to complete last week.

"I was trying to rush back to the mound, and it kind of set me back a couple times," Walden said. "I'm trying to stay away from any more setbacks. But right now, I feel confident enough."

If Walden gets through Tuesday's session without feeling any discomfort, he will likely throw at least one more bullpen session before resuming his role as Atlanta's right-handed setup man. He has been sidelined since straining his groin while running before a game in St. Louis a little more than two weeks ago.

Initially, the Braves were hoping Walden would need just a few days of rest to recover. The need for more time could have been a product of the fact that Walden aggressively hops off the rubber and places more tension on his lead leg than most pitchers during his delivery.

"I've never pitched like a normal guy," Walden said. "It was affecting me. I use my legs a lot. I jump and whatever. But I should be good."

Walden has compiled a 2.47 ERA and limited opponents to a .195 batting average in 46 appearances. His recent absence has added to the workload of left-handed setup man Luis Avilan, who has allowed a run in four of the 11 appearances he has made since not allowing an earned run in the 35 appearances he made from May 24-Aug. 14.

Worth noting

Gonzalez entered Sunday's series finale against the Phillies saying there was a chance he could use left-handed reliever Scott Downs, who had fractured the tip of his ring finger on his glove hand on Saturday night.

But the Braves' skipper altered his tune on Monday, saying he would likely not pitch Downs until Tuesday or Wednesday.