The first month of a baseball season is by no means an accurate gauge of what a player's season is going to be like.
Sample sizes are just plain wonky. Putting stock in how good or bad a player is based on a month’s worth of at-bats is by no means and effective way to determine their outlook.
With that being said, it’s hard to ignore what first baseman Brandon Belt has done thus far this season in San Jose.
The Giants' fifth round pick in last June’s draft, Belt wasn’t expected to be much of a power hitter as a professional. His stats as a junior at the University of Texas were good, not great, as he hit .323 with eight home runs, 43 RBI, and 17 doubles.
But Belt’s first 20 games of the 2010 season were completely absurd.
In 64 at-bats, Belt had a monstrous .438/.519/.703 line with three home runs, 13 RBI, eight doubles, and seven stolen bases. Those are the kind of numbers you expect from somebody like Buster Posey or Thomas Neal, not somebody like Belt who, despite being a fifth round pick, had a questionable bat coming out of college.
The numbers are definitely not sustainable nor are they going to determine that Belt is now the best prospect in the system. But to start the season the way he has, even better than Brandon Crawford did a year ago, at San Jose is pretty impressive.
Unfortunately for Belt, April had to come to an end. He's currently 0-for-6 to begin the month of May.
Mandatory Posey and Bumgarner Coverage
Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner have been the two names atop everybody’s prospect lists the past two years. Bumgarner and Posey entered the Triple-A season coming off very different springs.
Posey was in camp with the big squad the entire time, and Bumgarner only lasted a few starts with the big club before he was optioned to Fresno, and spent the rest of spring training at the minor league camp.
At the beginning of the season, it looked as though it was an extension of what was going on in Arizona. Posey came out of the blocks smoking hot, recording multi-hit game after multi-hit game while Bumgarner's first two starts of the season could be summed up with three figures—seven innings, 21 hits, 11 runs allowed.
Posey doing well at the plate, isn't that much of a big deal. That's what everybody expected from him for however long he is with Fresno. Seeing how he crushed Triple-A pitching when he was promoted last season, Posey hitting around .330 like he has been most of the season is pretty much the norm at this point.
But to see Bumgarner do that poorly in his first two outings was pretty alarming. Even though his velocity was down and he struggled in the spring, nobody expect Bumgarner to get absolutely blasted like he did in his first two starts in a Fresno uniform.
A visit from Dick Tidrow a few weeks ago to discuss some mechanics has caused Bumgarner to right the ship.
His velocity has reportedly come back to the low 90's, and the results are starting to reflect that. He isn't striking as many people out as he used to, but in his last three outings, he has given up only nine hits and allowed.
Richmond Flying Squirrels Hitters Yet to Takeoff
If there was one lineup in the system that could have a serious influence on the Giants’ future, it’s the one playing in Richmond, Va. in the Flying Squirrels’ opening season.
Names like Thomas Neal, Brandon Crawford, Nick Noonan, Roger Kieschnick, Conor Gillaspie, and Darren Ford are all amongst the best hitters in the system.
But with all that talent, the Squirrels' lineup has yet to hit his stride. Neal, Noonan, Ford, and Crawford have all had a tough first month of the season.
Neal, the top hitting prospect in the system outside of Buster Posey, is hitting only .233/.330/.367 in 90 at-bats so far this season. He has hit for decent power—two home runs and six doubles—but nothing close to what he did this time last year in San Jose.
His fellow outfielders, Kieschnick and Ford, have also found it tough to get going offensively this season. Kieschnick has one of the best averages on the team at .278, but isn't hitting for any power at all—no home runs or doubles and a .322 slugging percentage. Ford, who is hitting just .247, has drawn only three walks and recorded an OPS of .644.
The Squirrels' double play tandem of Crawford and Noonan have also struggled to get things going to begin the year. Noonan has been hitting better as of late, but still finds his line at .241/.267/.370 with just two home runs and six RBI. Crawford, who is starting his first-full year at Double-A, is hitting just .250, but has also improved his plate discipline by drawing 11 walks in 22 games.
Just for a comparison, he drew 20 walks in 108 games at Richmond last year. He may not be hitting for much of an average, but it's a good sign to see Crawford improving on something scouts continue to knock him for.
There is a good thing about all of this—it's the first month of the season. The sample sizes are not very big at all. In the same kind of way that was mentioned with Belt, what these guys do the first month of the season isn't going to determine their standing as prospects.
Luckily for the Squirrels, their pitching staff is absolutely dealing right now. Kind of sounds like the Squirrels' parent club, doesn't it?
2009 Top Picks With Different Starts at Augusta
Belt clearly tops the list of productivity from the 2009 draftees. When you hit close to .450 over the course of the season's opening month, that tends to get people's attention.
Two of Belt's classmates from the June draft, pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Tommy Joseph, are also making their professional debuts in A-ball, however at Low-A Augusta.
The sixth overall pick in the draft, Wheeler, saw his season start a lot like Bumgarner. In his pro debut, Wheeler faced all of six batters, recording only one out while walking three and giving up three runs.
Since then, Wheeler has actually gone multiple innings. He has yet to dominate at start, though. His ERA thus far stands at 6.23. He has struggled with his control, walking 11 while striking out 15 in 13 innings. His last outing on April 28 was easily his best—allowing just one unearned run in 4.2 innings.
The man Wheeler has thrown to this season, Joseph, who has also spent time at first and at DH this season, has had a solid debut for an 18-year-old less than a year out of high school. He leads the Greenjackets in RBIs with 20, tied for second in home runs with four, and is hitting .250/.330/.438.
It's not spectacular by any means. But for a kid debuting in the Sally League, it's a good start.
**Special thanks to Joseph Pun of azgiants.com for the picture of Brandon Belt used in this article. You can check out his fine work, including exclusive recaps and photos of Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez rehabbing, at his website.**