San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt's Development a Head Scratcher

Dan Van UnenContributor IMarch 28, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park on September 4, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When the San Francisco Giants used the 147th pick of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on first baseman Brandon Belt, they saw potential. The 6'5", lanky 21-year-old possessed good pop and a keen batting eye. What they probably didn't realize, is that in a round where teams are usually taking a stab in the dark, they struck gold.

The only problem is, for an organization starved of young hitting talent, the Giants just can't seem to get out of their own way when it comes to Belt's development.

After shooting through the Giants' farm system at a furious pace in 2010, going from High-A San Jose to the Triple-A Fresno in the same season, Belt went from project to prospect in the blink of an eye. Although he ended the season showing signs that he had finally reached a level that challenged him, he performed so well in his 2011 spring training audition that he made the Opening Day roster.

2010 Total Minor League Production (A+, AA, AAA)
492 AB, 99 R, 23 HR, 112 RBI, 22 SB, 93 BB, .352 AVG, .455 OB%, .620 SLG%, 1.075 OPS

The 2011 season did not go quite as planned, even though it took him just five official major league at-bats to hit his first HR. Soon after, he fell into a slump that landed him back in Triple-A just three weeks into the season.

After being recalled in late May, he was hit on the hand by a pitch from Cardinals RP Trever Miller and spent the month of June back at Fresno after a DL stint. Recalled in July to aid the Giants' run-scoring woes, Belt was sent back down yet again in early August to make room for veteran IF Mark DeRosa.

Whether the Giants regret promoting him to the big leagues so early in his professional career, or they simply cannot make up their mind about what they want to do with him, it has to be taking its toll on the kid.

Instead of using 2011 as an opportunity to get Belt developmental major league at-bats, manager Bruce Bochy forced veteran first baseman Aubrey Huff into the lineup, despite struggles at the plate all season long. It was clear the $22 million the Giants committed to Huff in the offseason would see the field no matter what.

Now with the dawn of the 2012 season fast approaching, one would think a team that struggled so mightily with putting runs on the board last season would be adamant that their budding first base talent sees the field. The discouraging word out of Giants camp? Belt is likely to be sent back to the minor leagues to start the season, yet again. For a player who is no longer challenged by Triple-A pitching, every at-bat he takes as a Fresno Grizzly is a wasted one.

Many would argue that Belt has nothing left to work on in the minor leagues and needs to start getting consistent, everyday playing time in San Francisco if the team wants him to reach his full potential. Having Belt in the lineup helps this team right now, and finding out his real potential sooner rather than later should be a priority. He's passed all the minor league tests, and now it's time to sink or swim.

After finishing with a National League-worst 570 runs scored last season, the Giants need all the help they can get, as quickly as they can get it. I know Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain would agree.