While managers often find themselves playing “parent” to the 25 men that share a clubhouse with them for the duration of the 162-game season they spend together, Giants' manager Bruce Bochy could find himself resorting to old parental threats in his quest to lead his team to improvement over their 2010 season.
It would seem hard for a team to have realistic aspirations of improving coming off a season in which the end result was a World Series victory. The 2011 San Francisco Giants are in a more enviable position than the 2010 Giants however due to one player, first base prospect Brandon Belt.
The 2010 team came together and managed to fire on all cylinders at exactly the right time, getting key contributions from some unlikely players to make the playoffs on the last day of the season and then work their way through the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and eventually the Texas Rangers. It was one of those seasons where everything fell into place and went the Giants way—one of those seasons which are hard to repeat.
The advantage the 2011 team has over the 2010 team is the flexibility their top prospect provides them.
Granted, there is a similarity to 2010; San Francisco had top prospect, and eventual Rookie of the Year winner, Buster Posey waiting in the minors to eventually be called up to replace veteran catcher Bengie Molina. Posey, as valuable as he is to the Giants though, did not provide the Giants with the flexibility that Brandon Belt provides to the 2011 Giants.
Now I realize that statement is a little misleading. After all, Belt is a first baseman and the Giants just signed Aubrey Huff to a two-year extension. I also realize that Posey started his first few games at first base, which would seem to provide the same opportunities I am about to outline, but the plan all along was to trade Molina as soon as Posey was ready to take over. It seems unlikely the Giants would sign Huff to a two-year extension to trade him midway through the following season.
Upon his eventual call-up, Brandon Belt will be the Giants' first baseman. While he could be transitioned to the outfield if the Giants needed to utilize him there to get his bat in the lineup, it is first base where they would like to keep him.
No, the flexibility I am speaking of comes in the form of their current first baseman, Aubrey Huff. Huff is capable of playing both corner outfield positions as well as first base. It is Brandon Belt’s emergence as a major league ready player that frees up Huff to the opportunity to transition into the outfield this year again.
Belt is having a successful spring so far, and although spring games have just begun, he could continue to make a case that he belongs on the Opening Day roster. While it is likely that he will start the season in the minor leagues due to financial implications, the Giants have a very valuable asset in the event of injuries or ineffectiveness from several of their regular starters. The Giants could decide that they are not worried about their young prospect achieving Super-Two status and could decide to include him on their Opening Day roster; however, this is unlikely unless it becomes absolutely necessary due to injuries early on.
Before I continue, I must give credit where it is due. I am borrowing this next phrase from KNBR’s Fitz and Brooks show (KNBR 680 12pm-3pm Monday-Friday). Rod Brooks, in his usual comedic genius with on-air partner Bob Fitzgerald, made the statement recently that if Bruce Bochy finds one of his starters is not performing to their ability, Bochy could break out the old parental threat “don’t make me get the Belt!”
As I sat listening to the Fitz and Brooks show, I realized just how important this phrase, all joking aside, actually is to the 2011 team. Belt is the obvious replacement if Aubrey Huff or Travis Ishikawa finds themselves injured at any point or if they find themselves in a prolonged slump. Given a little more thought though and you realize the three outfield positions all could find themselves subject to the parental “Belt” threat as well though.
Consider for a minute that either Pat Burrell or Cody Ross go down to injury or find themselves struggling in the lineup. Aubrey Huff can easily step out of the infield and back into one of the corner outfield roles, freeing up first base for the rookie.
Should both Andres Torres and Aaron Rowand find themselves injured or slumping, center field can be manned by Cody Ross while Huff takes over for him in right field.
Any of these scenarios means the Giants have chosen to go with Brandon Belt as the regular everyday player at first base over Travis Ishikawa. This is a fair assumption to make, while Ishikawa is a fine backup player, the Giants believe that Brandon Belt is their future starting first baseman and an All-Star in the making.
An already solid lineup featuring Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Freddie Sanchez, Miguel Tejada, a resurgent Pablo Sandoval and Cody Ross would be that much stronger with Brandon Belt who is projected as a power hitter at the major league level. This lineup supporting the Giants' stellar pitching rotation stands an excellent chance of repeating as National League West champions. The Giants pitching staff will match up well with any opponents they meet up with in the playoffs as they strive to return to another World Series.
A lot of time remains in spring training, however, the warning has been issued to the current starters: don’t fall into a prolonged slump or Bochy will be forced to look to Fresno and “get the Belt!”