Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brandon Belt: 2010 and 2011

Most Giants fans know who Brandon Belt is by now. Tons and tons of articles have been written on him. This is a very basic scouting report: good hitter, patient, above average defensively, profiles to hit 20-25 HRs and lots and lots of doubles at the major league level. He's a candidate for Minor League Player of the Year, maybe one of the most surprising prospects in baseball, gone through 3 minor league levels in one year, etc. We hadn't written about him yet because it seemed like a lot of sites were and we figured we'd wait a while, maybe give him some time to struggle, but that never happened. Seeing as he was promoted to AAA yesterday and had a home run and two walks in his first game, now seemed like as good a time as any to write about him.

As I mentioned above, Belt has gone through 3 minor league levels this year and has dominated at every single one so far. He's 22 and was drafted out of college, so moving that fast through the system isn't unheard of, but it's very rare. Now, the reason for his immediate success can be attributed to a mechanical flaw in his stance that the Giants fixed. Yeah the Giants fixing and developing a hitter, sounds weird huh? Well, Belt's stance was opened up, allowing room for more power and leaving him less vulnerable to inside pitches. Whatever the Giants did worked really well, and Belt, who was considered by many to be an overdraft in the 5th round, immediately dominated minor league pitching. He started in single-A, hitting .383/.492/.628/1.121. After 77 games, and having nothing left to prove in San Jose, the Giants promoted him to Double-A Richmond. Richmond plays in the Eastern League, a pitching-dominated league where many top prospects have struggled, but not Belt. He continued his hot streak, hitting .331/.409/.616/1.025 in 45 games before being promoted yesterday. All of a sudden, maybe Belt wasn't on a hot streak and maybe he was a legitimate prospect.

There has been a lot of talk about Brandon Belt being a September call-up this year. While I think it's likely, don't expect much out of him in 2010. First of all, I think the reason Belt was promoted so quickly from AA to AAA is because AA is not even close to the playoffs and AAA is. The Giants probably want him to participate in the playoffs for Fresno and I think that's probably a good idea. There's really no point in rushing him and he can get more experience on more advanced pitchers. I don't care what Sabean says, AAA pitching is still challenging. I think Belt will be called up, but not until Fresno's season is over. Also, the Giants are in a playoff race, they aren't going to give many at-bats to a rookie, no matter how good he was in the minors. After all, Buster Posey, one of the top prospects in all of baseball last year, could only get 17 ABs as a September call-up. So instead of looking forward to seeing Belt produce this year, we should look forward to next year.

I've come to think that it might not be too optimistic to think that Brandon Belt could be in the Giants lineup at the beginning of 2011. I've gone over different lineup possibilities for next year and many times the best lineup I come up with has Belt in it. I see a couple of things supporting the notion that he could be a starter next year. Belt has already been promoted to AAA, so he doesn't have too far to go. Top prospects in the Cal League usually don't stay there for long because it's a great hitters league and if they play well, they don't have much else to prove. Assuming Belt plays well, and c'mon it's impossible for him to NOT play well, he'll be close to being ready to play in the big leagues. Second of all, it is very significant that Belt dominated in AA. At the beginning of the year when he was tearing up Single-A, many scouts still didn't think too much of him. But when he continued his domination in AA, people became convinced that he was a very good prospect. It is often said that besides the jump from AAA to the majors, the biggest jump in terms of adjustment is from A to AA. Belt played well right away in AA, whereas many top prospects like Domonic Brown, Jesus Montero and Mike Stanton struggled to adjust.

Obviously, Belt being in the lineup next year depends on how he does with AAA over the next couple of weeks and how he does in Spring Training. And if Belt is in the lineup, it doesn't have to come at the expense of Aubrey Huff. Huff can always play the outfield and I actually want him back, for the right deal of course. But Brandon Belt has given Giants fans a reason to be excited and has shown that he doesn't have much left to prove. Come 2011, you could be seeing a lot of him.

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