By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Brandon Belt, First Baseman, San Francisco Giants
2012 season: 145 G, 411 AB, .275 BA, 7 HR, 56 RBI, 12 SB, .781 OPS
When Brandon Belt made the Giants out of Spring Training in 2011, he cried. The kid had been drafted less than two years earlier in the fifth round, where expectations aren’t particularly high. But he rose all the way from Single-A to Triple-A in 2010, then broke camp with the big league team the next season. He had become a touted prospect during that time and was supposed to be a big part of a Giants team that was defending its World Series title.
But things didn’t work out as planned. Instead, Belt received uneven playing time and struggled to prove himself. He garnered only 187 at-bats that season, smacking nine home runs but hitting just .225 with a .718 OPS in the process. Last year, Belt improved but did not perform at the level that many thought possible when he first got called up.
Part of the problem might have been how the Giants coaching staff tried to change his swing in the Majors. Belt seemed to find it at times, but he was very inconsistent last year. After he recording zero home runs in April and May, he finally launched four in June – only to get blanked in July and August before going deep three more times in September. The good news is that he hit .293 in the second half, as opposed to .254 in the first.
Overall, Belt’s big league career has been disappointing, but he’s still got more potential than he’s shown. In his one season in the minors, he absolutely raked, batting .352 with 23 homers and 93 walks in 136 games. It’s rare enough for a player to post those kinds of average and power numbers, but to do it with that level of patience is almost unheard of. Belt has continued to walk at a strong rate in the Majors, drawing 54 free passes last year, so even if he doesn’t get the average up, he can still provide value on offense.
Always a good spring performer, Belt has outdone himself this time around. In 20 Cactus League games, the 24-year-old is batting .453 with seven home runs and a .1384 OPS. He obviously isn’t going to do anything like that once the games start to count, but it’s still a good sign heading into the season. It’s hard to know what exactly to expect from Belt this year, but it’s more than possible that he finally breaks out. If that happens, Belt will immediately become one of the best hitters on a Giants team that relies heavily on its pitching.
Next up on March 28: Colorado Rockies