Brandon Belt appears ready for the major leagues, but will he be temporarily stalled as Giants general manager Brian Sabean again tries to protect a player on whom he made a mistake?
Belt has impressed everybody with his play this spring. Spring training statistics are largely meaningless because both position players and pitchers work on different schedules. Young hitters, especially those who have played winter ball, come in at full go, while veteran pitchers are trying to work themselves into shape for the season.
Still, if you’ve been observing baseball for a time, you can spot the real hitters. The first time I saw Will Clark in the batting cage, I knew he’d be a hitter. Since I’m not at spring training, I have to rely on the judgment of those I trust. One of them is broadcaster Marty Lurie who tells me Belt is an exciting young hitter with a great knowledge of the strike zone, able to take the ball the other way. Marty adds, “He’s made for ‘Triples Alley’ at AT&T.”
Belt may be only 22, but with his approach to hitting he seems like a player who will have a long, successful major league career. He’s also an excellent defensive first baseman.
Yet, Sabean’s statements about Belt have led to the conclusion that he’ll start in the minors, just as Buster Posey did and for the same reason, that one of Sabean’s veteran pets is blocking the way.
Posey was ready for the majors last year, too, but he was sent down to Fresno for the first two months of the season. There were various reasons given, but they were all a cover for the real one: Sabean had signed Bengie Molina for another year and didn’t want to either bench him or release him, though it was obvious that Molina’s bat speed had decreased and he wasn’t playing very good defense, either.
Even when Posey was belatedly promoted, he was originally played at first, until Sabean was able to trade Molina to the Texas Rangers. Once he was installed behind the plate, Posey proved the criticisms of his catching were base canards.
Belt faces the same problem this spring: a Sabean favorite in his way. Aubrey Huff had a very good season last year and was a big factor in the Giants’ world championship. He was rewarded with a two-year, $22 million contract, which may well turn out to be another Sabean contract the Giants will regret.
Sabean has a history of overpaying. Two big mistakes are still on the roster, Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand, who still has two years left at $12 million each. Edgar Renteria is gone. Despite his World Series performance, Renteria did little to justify his two-year, $18.5 million contract.
Sabean has made some nice pickups on the cheap recently, including Huff and Pat Burrell last year and Andres Torres and Juan Uribe the year before. But the Giants didn’t make their move last year until he let manager Bruce Bochy play his best players, especially Torres, and not his most expensive.
I just hope Sabean can do the same this spring with Belt. He should be playing from day one.
.352 Brandon Belt’s batting average through three levels of baseball in 2010
23 Home runs Belt hit in 2010
112 RBIs Belt totaled in 2010