Prospect Profile: Brandon Belt
I touched on Brandon Belt briefly in my “Down on the Farm” post, but didn’t go into detail in hopes of stretching this guy’s story potential out as much as humanly possible, because let’s face it; highly touted position player prospects have been few and far between for the Giants, Buster Posey excepted.
Drafted in the 5th round (147th overall) in 2009, there were serious doubts as to whether his bat would translate to professional baseball. Many scouts worried that because of his height and long arms, he’d have a gaping hole on the inside corner of the strike zone, in addition to the uncertainty of his home run power. The prevailing theory was that he was a decent enough gap-to-gap hitter with doubles power, and that for the most part this was his perceived ceiling. After hitting instructors down in the lower levels had him open up his stance to cover the inside pitch, Belt saw major improvements. In a single season split among three levels in the minors, he put all doubts to rest, throwing up a monster season to the tune of a .352/.455/.620 line with 23 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Everything from his power to his plate discipline impressed scouts and stat-heads alike, sporting a shiny 1.06 walk-to-strikeout ratio to go along with pole-to-pole power. John Sickels of Minor League Ball states that “assuming a standard growth curve, (Belt) has the ability to be an above-average producer at first base at worst, and very possibly an All-Star, assuming he stays with the swing and approach he used this year.” If he manages to even graze the ceiling of expectations, it’s a safe bet that between Buster Posey and Brandon Belt, the future potential of a homegrown offense looks bright.
Adam Foster of Project Prospect took footage of Belt’s swing in batting practice and broke it down with this in-depth analysis:
I see an athletic hitter with little head movement who does a good job staying back with his upper body then explodes his hips through the ball. Belt does all this while maintaining a level swing path and keeping his barrel in the zone for a good amount of time. What’s more, he displays an impressive amount of wrist strength, accelerating his hands through the ball as he makes contact.
For those of you who don’t speak the language of a hitting coach, everything described here points to Belt having fundamentally sound mechanics as well as an above-average ability to drive the ball to all fields. A good hitter is a balanced hitter, and everything about his swing screams complete and utter equilibrium; see for yourself.
Playing devil’s advocate, all of the praise and accolades for Belt are based off of a single season in the minors. Even Doug Mapson, the Giants coordinator of amateur scouting who’s heaped praise on Belt, warns us: “we’ll see what kind of offensive player he becomes, but anyone who thinks they can solve hitting in just a few years of amateur ball is sorely mistaken.” To top off the devil-advocating sandwich, scouts say the Belt’s 22 stolen bases were a result of A-ball pitchers not paying him any attention, so expecting a 20 HR/20 SB threat is unrealistic at best.
The only doubts concerning Belt’s future though are hardly quantifiable with hard numbers or scouting reports. Scouts across the board love Belt’s swing, while John Sickels admits that in 2010, “there were no statistical flaws that I can see in his performance.” In terms of his absolute ceiling, think Will Clark with more plate discipline. My best guess for a decent statistical equivalent to use as an absolute worst case scenario is somewhere along the lines of Travis Lee, a guy who didn’t live up to his first-round potential, but was still a serviceable Major Leaguer.
It’s hard not to drool over a lineup featuring a guy who could be an impact player in the Majors as quickly as this season assuming he takes a similar path to Buster Posey. I doubt he’ll break camp with the team despite rumblings that he may split time with Pat Burrell in left, but odds are there’s a call-up in his future come late-May, early-June. Given the uncertainty surrounding guys like Pablo Sandoval and Miguel Tejada, Belt may well prove to be a shot in the arm akin to the one Posey and Burrell provided last season. In a game of inches, every little advantage counts, be it an amazing pitching staff or a five-star prospect producing as expected.