And because early spring training is a time filled mostly with the mind-numbing but necessary evils of the game, such as half-interested pitchers pantomiming throws to the plate before faux-hustling off the mound to cover first base, the Belt and Reddick developments beg the questions: Who’ll have a better 2014? Who has a brighter future?
The answer to both is Belt.
Here’s why: Reddick, who turned 27 on Wednesday, is an excellent defensive corner outfielder with prodigious power but a sometimes frightening penchant for punching out. To wit, in 2012 he hit 32 homers but whiffed in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances (151 of 673).
His plate approach and swing are such that hitting .300 or higher for the season is a pipe dream, his on-base percentage has never been higher than .327, and his high-strung nature makes him something of a polarizing clubhouse personality.
You can’t discount that last part, either. Players with Reddick’s swag are wholly palatable — endearing even — when they put up numbers like he did in 2012. That same swag while putting up numbers like he did in 2013? Gets old in a hurry, and whether they admit it or not, the evidence suggests that the A’s have done a 180 on their former stance that chemistry is a by product of winning.
They know damn well that great chemistry can and does, in fact, enhance the chances of winning.
In other words, it’s not a stretch to envision more than a few A’s fans with two obsolete No. 16 jerseys hanging in their closets in the not-too-distant future — Giambi and Reddick. Oakland loves it some Reddick, but one thing A’s GM Billy Beane has NOT done a 180 on is sentimentality. If he gave a sniff about fan favorites, Eric Byrnes would have been an Athletic for life.
Now let’s take a look at Belt: what he is, and what he might very well end up being.
He’s 25, he’s got Gold Glove potential at first base, and he’s coming off the kind of offensive season that makes baseball people say, “Oooh, this kid’s starting to figure some things out.”
A terrific hitter at every level of the minors, Belt has certainly had his struggles at the highest level of the game. He’s frustrated his coaches and fans alike at times, in part because of all that minor-league success. But it’s important to note that his minor-league success typically came after a less-than-lights-out adjustment to whatever new level he was taking on, and it stands to reason that the adjustment period would be longer in the bigs.
And it has been. Much longer. Yet even while adjusting, he posted consecutive seasons with a .360 on-base percentage in his first two full years, upping his batting average from a solid .275 to .289. And if you’ve paid close attention to the changes in his approach and swing since the Giants stopped yo-yo-ing him back to the minors or out to left field, it’s not that hard to see a career .300-plus hitter with the ability to knock 22 to 28 balls out of the yard every year.
He’s also universally liked in the clubhouse, with the swag of a golden retriever.
We like to call it upside, and Belt still has a ton of it. Reddick? Maybe not. That’s not to say Reddick doesn’t have some good years in him, but Belt looks like someone housing greatness.
Mychael Urban has covered Bay Area sports for more than 22 years as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet, CSNBayArea.com, KNBR, MLB.com, ESPN The Magazine and various newspapers.