SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 07: Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants swings the bat against the Texas Rangers during the exhibition baseball game in the first meeting between the two teams since the World Series at Scottsdale Stadium on March 7, 2011 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Following the action at second base is Mark DeRosa #7 of the San Francisco Giants. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brandon Belt
His reaction ("Sweet!") is pretty spot-on, but obviously getting credit for playing well as a youngster in spring training means nothing. He's still got to worry about actually making the roster. Which, of course, is absolutely up in the air at this point.
"I liked what I've seen from him on both sides of the ball," Bochy said recently. "Quality at-bats, good balance, good discipline at the plate -- you see why he had the year he had last year."
Bochy doesn't make the final call, though -- General Manager Brian Sabean does. But, at some point, Belt will make his way to the bigs, and it's pretty likely that it'll be, oh say, around April 11th, at which point his free agency clock will be delayed another year.
But even with that delay, could Belt end up being the best first basemen in the National League West this year? ESPN's David Schoenfield thinks so, and tabbed Belt as his preseason NL West All-Star selection. (And, for what it's worth, he's also got Buster Posey, Brian Wilson and Pablo Sandoval on the team as well.)
Going out on a limb here, but I think Belt ends up with 500 PAs by the end of the season, with Aubrey Huff moving to the outfield. Todd Helton? Brad Hawpe? James Loney? Belt will outproduce those guys if he plays. Russell Branyan could have a nice year in the desert, but he's likely to be platooned and is a big injury risk.
That's an interesting limb to go out on, indeed. And Schoenfield makes a pretty valid point. In fact, the only guy that could really derail Belt, provided he plays up to his talent level, is Huff. (Or, I suppose, Sabean and Bochy.)
But all signs towards Belt taking over first base once he's called up for the season, with Huff moving to the outfield. Taking a look at Buster Posey's numbers (and Posey didn't join the team until late May, mind you), it's entirely plausible that Belt could exceed the rest of the division.
Todd Helton, at the ripe old age of 37, isn't going to post anything huge. In 2010, he hit just eight homers and only had 473 plate appearances. That's only the second-most PA's (and second-most HR's) Helton has had in the past three years, so expecting him to a) stay healthy and b) produce at a high clip is probably a stretch.
Something along the lines of 10 home runs, 60 RBI and a .275 batting average could be considered fair (or even optimistic).
In San Diego, Brad Hawpe's a bit of a dark-horse, I suppose, but not when you start breaking down his splits (he was, and almost always has been, MUCH better at Coors Field), there's no real reason to expect him to bounce back to his .275, 20-plus homer days now that he's in PETCO Park.
James Loney could be the wild card because, as usual, he's primed for a breakout. According to various people, anyway -- but Loney's been supposedly primed for one of those for the past few years, and he's never really done anything -- outside of hit for a lower average each year and never top 13 home runs -- to justify it. If he finally does break out, and he could, there's still no guarantee that his breakout is bigger than the guy manning the bag for San Fran.
So, what are we expecting out of Belt, then? 15-20 homers, 60-75 RBI, a pile of walks (plus a pile of K's) and a batting average around .275-.280 seems reasonable if he performs the way people way people hope.
Maybe that's optimistic, but the good news is that, even if he doesn't meet those numbers, he still might be the best-hitting first bagger in his division.