When the Giants organization nabbed Brandon Belt in the fifth round of the 2009 draft the selection went by with nary a whisper of appreciation or a ripple of applause. Fast forward less than two years and the first baseman is one of the early favorites for Rookie of the Year in the National League and his presence on the roster has sent 12-year veteran Aubrey Huff from first base to right field.
Already the best selection in the ’09 draft for the Giants (although prep picks pitcher Zack Wheeler and catcher Tommy Joseph have potential), Belt has out-performed first round draftees such as San Diego’s Donavan Tate (who cost $6.25 million), Baltimore’s Matt Hobgood ($2.42 million), Arizona’s A.J. Pollock ($1.4 million), Toronto’s Chad Jenkins ($1.35 million), and Milwaukee’s Eric Arnett ($1.19 million). The Giants prospect signed for a mere $200,000 and will quickly recoup his value if he hasn’t already.
At the time of the draft, the University of Texas prospect had big questions about his offensive potential stemming from a unique batting stance. After going pro, Belt reworked his approach with the help of the Giants minor league coaches. Prior to the draft, Baseball America stated:
“…scouts don’t love his set-up. He bats out of a deep crouch and cuts himself off, reducing his power. A disciplined lefthanded hitter with the size… He uses more of an opposite-field approach and doesn’t turn on pitches consistently.
Oh, how times change. Belt was a monster in 2010. He played at three minor league levels for the Giants (A+, AA, and AAA) before ending the year in the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .442 wOBA in 86 at-bats. That “reduced power” from college was an after-thought; Belt’s power output did not dip below a .244 ISO rate at any level and he hit well above .300 at every level but AAA (48 at-bats). He also posted outstanding on-base rates. He’s not just a powerful bat, either. Belt stole more than 20 bases in the minors in 2010 and is a smart base runner. On defense, he flashes enough leather to suggest that he could develop into an above-average defender before too long.
Currently batting seventh in the Giants’ increasingly potent lineup, the rookie may be up in the fifth hole of the lineup before the year is out. He should team with sophomore catcher Buster Posey to create a potent heart of the lineup for years to come. With their offensive potentials, defensive skills and solid makeups, they are the type of players any team would love to build around.
After the 2010 season, I ranked Belt as the No. 1 prospect in the Giants organization. It was an easy decision and he also came in at No. 16 on FanGraphs’ Top 100 Prospects list published in late March. He’s definitely my early favorite for RoY in the NL, over the likes of Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman, Atlanta’s talented trio of prospects Freddie Freeman, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor, as well as Philly’s Domonic Brown (currently out with an injury). Belt will definitely have to hit well to justify his place on the team, not only because he’s playing a position with high offensive expectations, but because Giants fans are going to have to live with Huff’s defense (career -16.4 UZR) in the outfield.