As the defending champion San Francisco Giants cruise through their second week of spring training, there is plenty of hype surrounding super-prospect Brandon Belt.
The young first baseman is likely to continue to impress fans this spring, and some argue that he should be considered for a spot on the opening day roster. However, there are a few concerns that should give fans pause. Despite his bright future as a Giant, here are five reasons Brandon Belt should start the 2011 season in the minors.
Before heralding Brandon Belt as the next Buster Posey, remember that his meteoric rise through the minors largely excluded much meaningful competition at the Triple-A level. In fact, Belt stood at the dish in only 13 games in his short tenure in Fresno.
Rushing prospects through the farm system isn’t in the style of the Giants’ brass, and for good reason. Data and experience suggest that when a player is called up has significant bearing on his future success. Teams like the Mets—who have recently been quick to pull the trigger on young talent—limit their prospects’ development and end up shooting themselves in the foot.
Brandon Belt unintentionally dropped 15-20 pounds of much-needed weight over a physically demanding season last year and would benefit from more time in the minors to adapt to the rigors of a high level.
It was a talented minor league coaching staff that opened up Belt’s stance and unleashed his potential to barrel one out of the park. Who knows what Belt will uncover in his game if the Giants give him more time to develop in Triple-A.
Belt impressed by hitting .352 with 23 home runs and 76 extra base hits in his first pro season at three different levels. His astronomic stats are difficult to sustain at any level, and it is likely that Belt’s numbers will deflate slightly this season, whether he is suiting up in Fresno or San Francisco.
His hitting already dipped to .229 in his 13 games in Triple-A ball. If his numbers are expected to cool, it makes sense for Belt to work through this period in Fresno, where the pressure is less intense and prospects are still assumed to be in development.
Aubrey Huff, the man who put up MVP-worthy statistics last year, currently occupies first base for the Giants. Either Belt or Huff would move to an outfield that is already overly crowded with personnel if Belt were to make the opening day roster. The other option, allowing Belt to ease into a supporting role on the Giants’ bench, makes little sense. Bruce Bochy has acknowledged that Belt would be wasting valuable development in the minors if he plays only sparingly in the majors.
Financial and trade considerations also loom. As it was for Posey, calling Belt up mid-season would move his arbitration date a year later, locking him in for an extra year. By waiting to bring him to San Francisco, the Giants might also line themselves up for a big mid-season trade of one or more of their outfielders. This will enable the Giants to clear up the outfield clutter and meet any pressing needs that are apparent after the first half of the season.
162 games make for a long season with inevitable ups and downs. The low points of a season often can be offset by a catalyst that propels a team into the postseason. The emergence of Buster Posey was the spark that the team needed last year to get through the summer.
Perhaps Brandon Belt could be brought up mid-season to give the team a jolt like Posey did in 2010. It certainly worked then. Why deviate from a model that led the Giants to their first World Series championship in 56 years?