An important part of the puzzle for the Giants as they aim at still another World Series championship will be the continued development of their Brandons, Belt and Crawford.
Belt’s road has been especially bumpy, starting with the awful nickname given him, “The Baby Giraffe.” Please.
His development has been uneven, not surprising because he was a pitcher in college before becoming a first baseman. There have been many obstacles in his way, starting with Aubrey Huff who was foolishly given a two-year contract by the king of bad contracts, Brian Sabean, after he was a big factor in the Giants’ 2010 championship. That meant Huff was still lingering last season though he was a psychological wreck.
There has also been the natural desire of manager Bruce Bochy to keep Buster Posey’s bat in the lineup, even when he wasn’t catching. That has meant playing him at first base. There have even been media and fans who have thought Posey should be shifted permanently to first base, though Posey wants to catch and his value as a catcher is off the charts. He’s a good defensive catcher who is the reigning NL batting champion, with good power numbers as well.
This year, Bochy plans to use Belt in left field at times when Posey gets a rest from catching by playing first base. That’s the first sign that Belt has won the right to be a full-time player. An even better one was the fact that he seemed much more relaxed at the plate the last couple of months of the 2012 season.
In the history of the San Francisco Giants, Belt is second defensively only to J.T. Snow, the best I’ve ever seen. Belt has shown flashes of power, and he has excellent plate discipline, not exactly the norm for Giants hitters. If he’s kept in the lineup, this should be his breakout year.
Over their years in San Francisco, the Giants have had some outstanding first basemen — Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda were both on the roster in the early ’60s. But they’ve seldom had outstanding shortstops. Jose Pagan had one good year with the ’62 pennant winners and Chris Speier had several good years in the ’70s. Lately, the Giants had turned to veteran free agents. Omar Vizquel was a good choice, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada were not. Now, they’re back with a homegrown product in Crawford, who had a brilliant finish to the 2012 season in the postseason.
Shortstop is the one position where defense counts the most; teams have won with shortstops hitting around .200. So, though some readers didn’t like Crawford when his average was in the low .200s, I thought it was important to keep him in the lineup because he’s a great defensive shortstop, with hands comparable to Vizquel’s and a stronger arm.
In the postseason, he also delivered some timely hits, as well. I doubt that he’ll ever hit .300, but .250 would be more than acceptable.
There are no super teams in baseball now, and that includes the Giants. But if this becomes the year of the Brandons, their hope of repeating will become more credible.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.