San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt Needs Be Everyday LF

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San Francisco Giants: Brandon Belt Needs Be Everyday LF
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Brandon Belt posted a 1.075 OPS across three minor-leage levels in 2010

On Friday afternoon, the San Francisco Giants announced that second baseman Mike Fontenot had been placed on release waivers.

With Fontenot’s departure and light-hitting Emmanuel Burris expected to be the Opening Day second baseman, the Giants now have one spot remaining on their 25-man roster.  Now it’s only a matter of whether they break camp with Brett Pill or Brandon Belt, which should be a much easier decision than the Giants are making it.

It’s doubtful that either Belt or Pill, both primarily first basemen, will start ahead of Aubrey Huff at first base, who lacks defensive prowess in the outfield and is in the second year of a two-year, $22 million contract. 

After a disappointing 2011 season in which Huff batted .246/.306/.370 and posted a -0.6 fWAR, the 35-year-old, who has been hampered periodically this spring by a stiff back, entered Friday’s game against the Padres batting .271/.327/.458 this spring.

Belt, on the other hand, has made a strong case to once again break camp as the team’s first baseman.

After a disappointing rookie campaign that was riddled with injury and demotion, and saw him bat .225/.306/.412 over 187 big-league bats, Belt has been raking this spring while also seeing time in left field.

Now 23, Belt’s .407/.446/.678 spring slash line and 10 extra-base hits have made him one of the Giants’ most promising bats headed into the 2012 season, and extremely difficult to relegate to either a spot on the bench or Triple-A roster.

And then there’s Brett Pill, a 27-year-old first baseman who's batted .279/.328/.445 over six minor league seasons (2,800 at-bats).  Pill received his first taste of the Major Leagues last season as a September call-up, blasting a two-run home run in his big-league debut.  He went on to post a .300/.321/.560 line in 50 at-bats to round out the 2011 season, which was enough to garner 25-man roster consideration headed into Spring Training.

Although he hasn’t swung the bat as well as Belt, he’s certainly out-preformed Aubrey Huff by batting .254/.270/.525 with nine extra-base hits and 12 RBI in 59 at-bats this spring.

However, it appears that the decision will ultimately boil down to defense.  As we all witnessed last season, Huff is a train wreck in the outfield.  And given his increasing frailty, it’s unlikely that the Giants would force him to play a position more stressful than first base.

Pill’s value lies in the fact that he played 57 games at second base for Triple-A Fresno last season.  Therefore, he has the potential to serve as a backup to Huff at first base, while his power bat makes him an intriguing backup at second base, as well.

Because Belt is unlikely to see playing time at first base out of the gate—unless the Giants unexpectedly give him the nod—he may be forced to compete with the defensively-savvy Nate Schierholtz for a spot in right field.

And this is exactly where Brandon Belt should start, every day.

The Giants mishandled Belt’s development last season, and I do believe if given the playing time, he’ll put up some impressive numbers.  ZIPS has Belt pegged to be the second-best Giants’ hitter in 2012, batting .268/.365/.452 with a 121 OPS+.  Similarly, ZIPS projects Pill to produce a 91 OPS+.

With only a few days until rosters must be finalized, the Giants will need to make a difficult decision regarding the future of both Belt and Pill.  It’s a decision that has the potential to impact their entire offensive dynamic, not to mention the ongoing development of both players.

For the sake of both Belt and Giants fans everywhere, I can only hope they make the right one.

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