San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt Will Have a Monster Year in 2012
After Brandon Belt failed to live up to the incredibly high and unrealistic expectations in 2011, there is reason to believe that he'll turn things around in 2012 and become the player that the San Francisco Giants originally anticipated.
It was a rough year for Belt in 2011. When looking at his stats (.225/.306/.412), it's hard to chalk up the season as anything but a huge disappointment.
But when you look at his numbers a little more closely, his .718 OPS meant that he was nothing less than a league average hitter.
So could have Belt's struggles in the majors been a bit overemphasized?
They certainly were. Not only was Belt the most mishandled prospect of 2011, but he had a tough act to follow after Buster Posey's incredible rookie season just one year prior.
So now that Belt's 2011 season is nothing more than a distant memory, here's why Giants fans should be feeling optimistic about what Belt can potentially do with the bat in 2012.
Belt Was the Most Mishandled Prospect of 2011
If MLB gave out awards for the most mishandled prospect during a regular season, Brandon Belt would've won the award in 2011, and it would've been an unanimous decision.
Belt was a human yo-yo in 2011, as he was never able to settle into the major leagues after being sent down and recalled to the major leagues three separate times.
That's a tough thing for any human being to endure, let alone a 23-year-old prospect that is trying to become accustomed to the different nuances of the game at the major league level.
Even when Belt was in the majors—which was once in a blue moon—he found himself watching from the bench as the unmotivated and out of shape Aubrey Huff took his at-bats and started at first base.
Moreover, the spotlight was shining bright on Belt, even long before Opening Day arrived. He was the most talked about player during spring training, and that was well-documented Showtime's series The Franchise: A Season with the San Francisco Giants.
Lastly, as if the two previously mentioned excuses weren't enough to distract Belt, Buster Posey set the bar too high for future rookies.
Posey helped lead the Giants to their first World Series championship in 2010, which was his rookie season in the major leagues. He was awarded with the NL Rookie of the Year honors for hitting .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in just 108 games.
That was simply a magnificent season for Posey, and not many rookies have the ability to produce like that so early in their careers.
So in stepped Belt, the 23rd-overall prospect, according to Baseball America, months after Posey was bestowed the Rookie of the Year award.
Giants fans were spoiled with Posey's rookie performance, and it was simply unrealistic to expect Belt to do produce anything even comparable to Posey's 2010 season.
Heck, they even forced Belt to play in left field at times, which certainly put more on his already crowded plate. It's tough enough to learn how to hit in the major leagues, let alone learn how to play a completely different position.
There is no doubt that Belt's mismanagement affected his performance in 2011.
Produced at Every Level Before the Majors
After being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB draft, Brandon Belt did something that not very many prospects are capable of.
In just his first year after being drafted, Belt flew through all three of the minor league ranks in the same season.
After starting the 2010 season with the San Jose Giants—the single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, he ended the season with the Fresno Grizzlies—the triple-A affiliate of the Giants.
He ended up with a triple slash of .352/.455/.620 with 23 home runs and 115 RBI.
Putting up those types of numbers while facing completely different pitching throughout all three levels of the minor leagues proves that Belt can hit.
Moving through the minor league ranks that quickly also proves that he can adjust to different levels of pitching. Even though Belt's batting average dropped every time he advanced leagues, his on-base percentage in triple-A was still .393, which is a very respectable number.
While Belt still hasn't been able to translate his minor league success to the majors, don't be surprised to see him put up big numbers once he settles in.
Has the Power to Be a 20-Plus Home Run Guy
Despite Brandon Belt's struggles in 2011, he still managed to hit nine home runs in only 187 at-bats.
If Belt received 500 at-bats in 2011, which is a normal number for an everyday positional player, and continued to hit home runs at the same rate, he would've ended up with 24 home runs at the end of the season.
That's not too outrageous of a claim either, since Belt smashed 23 home runs in 595 at-bats in the minor leagues.
While Belt is more of a gap-to-gap hitter, hitting for power isn't completely out of the question, especially with his frame. Belt is 6'5", 220 pounds, and still has a lot of room to grow. His lanky arms allow him to whip the bat through the zone, which is one way to generate power.
Plus, power is something that usually develops over time, and he only has two full years of professional baseball under his belt (no pun intended).
Take a look at this video and watch Belt hit a home run over the left-center field fence. He hit that ball at least 450 feet to the opposite field, which not many people can do.
Worked at Refining His Approach This Offseason
One thing I really liked about Brandon Belt's game was his approach at the plate.
He had a very good eye and would rarely swing at balls outside of the strike zone. However, his patience at the plate was to a fault, as he would frequently watch good pitches go by. That's the ideal approach for a leadoff hitter, but not a middle-of-the-order first baseman with some pop.
Bruce Bochy took notice of Belt's passiveness at the plate and encouraged him to become more aggressive early in the count.
"Operation Attack the Zone" (this is not the official name) was put into effect during this offseason when Belt had a triple slash of .300/.390/.470 in 100 at-bats for the Escogido baseball club in the Dominican Republic.
Belt's patience at the plate his rookie year was something that not very many rookies bring to the table. But instead of working the counts and letting good pitches go by, Belt now needs to be aggressive and jump on the first-pitch fastballs when they are thrown.
The first pitch is generally the best pitch you'll see all at-bat after all.
If Belt incorporates what he learned this offseason and becomes a more aggressive hitter, he'll start to look more and more like a No. 5 hitter of the future that the Giants are hoping for.
Must Work on Hitting the Inside Fastball
If there was one thing that Brandon Belt struggled with in 2011, it was catching up to the inside fastball. It's part of the reason why he was sent down to the minor leagues a few times.
Belt does have a very long and loopy swing, which generally means that he is susceptible to the hard stuff on the inner half of the plate.
Along with being more aggressive earlier in the count, Belt must prove that he's able to keep his hands inside the ball when pitchers decide to go inside on him.
Pitchers at the major league level have pinpoint control, so they'll keep throwing inside to Belt until he proves that he can handle it.
And if this swing is at all indicative of his ability to hit the inside fastball, Belt will be fine.
This home run came on the second-to-last day of the season, after Belt had been sent down to the minor leagues three times to refine his swing. If Belt can continue to hit 93 MPH fastballs into McCovey Cove, Bruce Bochy will find a way to get him in the lineup every day.
Belt's Productivity Contingent on If He Gets a Chance
We all know how much Bruce Bochy loves his veterans. Even though Aubrey Huff hit a measly .246 in 2011, he still started 119 games at first base, as opposed to Belt's 19 starts.
With a crowded outfield of Nate Schierholtz, Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera, there is no room for Belt to play in the outfield. It will be first base or bust for playing time, and he'll be battling Huff for the starting job once again in 2012.
Belt got a chance to start at the beginning of the 2011 season after his impressive spring training, so Huff was moved to right field to make way for Belt. However, Huff's struggles in the outfield and Belt's troubles at the plate solidified Huff as the starting first baseman for the rest of the season.
No matter how much I would love to see Belt be the starting first baseman in 2012, there's a good chance that the job will be Huff's to lose.
Along with being a veteran, Huff has developed a unique trend of having a solid season every other year. So if this pattern happens to continue in 2012, Belt will likely find himself cheering on from the dugout in San Francisco, or batting third for the Fresno Grizzlies.
However, if Huff happens to struggle early on in the year and Belt is awarded with the full-time starting job at first base, expect big things from Belt in 2012.
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