Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt’s choice: stand up or get sent down

The San Francisco Giants have one player on the roster who matches the first base prototype. Brandon Belt is tall, left-handed, and the kind of easy power that makes teammates giggle in one dugout while opponents look on with envy in the other.

To baseball fans who’ve followed Belt’s minor league career closely and seen that easy power for themselves, Belt is the perfect position player — a guy that, along with Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Gary Brown and Joe Panik, could one day form the best 1-through-5 ever seen in a Giants lineup. Put Belt in the lineup for 150 games every season, and everything will turn out okay.

Except the San Francisco Giants feel that Belt is far from a finished product.

— Belt wanted to rest his brain and legs after a tumultuous rookie season. The Giants had other ideas:

Brandon Belt wasn’t excited when Giants officials broached the subject of playing winter ball. But the rookie had a change of heart after meeting with manager Bruce Bochy on Wednesday.

Bochy believes that Belt will soak up something else of value while performing in a competitive, fervent atmosphere, too.

“He knows how I feel,” Bochy said.

— Belt wanted to concentrate on plate discipline and taking walks, but the Giants want him to be more aggressive, let fewer strikes coast through the zone. From Henry Schulman, who wrote the following a week ago:

(Belt) also plans to attack strikes, which he did not do consistently last year. Bochy considered Belt too passive at the plate, searching for walks instead of trying to crush pitches over the plate. Belt was the first to agree, saying, “When I’m aggressive, I’m a lot better.”

— So Belt went to the Dominican when he didn’t want to (and hit the cover off, with a .300/.390/.470 slash) and he promises to swing more, now what? According to Ray Ratto when he went on with Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert on Friday afternoon, the Giants want to see better posture.

“They still believe he’s going to be a hitter. But they want him to change his stance to be more upright, and he still likes to get in that crouch and they don’t think that he’s going to be able to be the power-hitting first baseman he can be if he’s going to try to be Tony Gwynn. So I think they want him to get his stance straightened out. And maybe they will before they have to cut anybody, but I think right now, based on what they’re projecting, I think Huff will start and Belt will start in Fresno and just compile at-bats so they can see if he’s ready to be more than the .229 hitter he was a year ago.”

There are a couple ways to look at the Giants’ fastidiousness in regards to Belt.

The Bad: The Giants aren’t exactly an organization that’s been known for building better hitters, and it’s been this way for quite some time. On-base percentage and pitch-selection, long considered the foundation of a better offense by teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and others, seems to be secondary to aggressive contact-making in the Giants’ organization. For example, check out why Schulman thinks Steve Decker went from Fresno Grizzlies manager to the Giants’ coordinator of minor league hitting instruction.

I have had many conversations with Decker about hitting. I’m guessing that one reason the Giants made this move is Decker’s philosophy of being aggressive at the plate, particularly for middle-order hitters with power. That’s not the same as “hacking.” It means knowing when to pounce.

If you’re of the opinion that Belt was the Giants’ best minor league hitting prospect in 2010 as is, without any tweaks to his stance or approach, it stands to reason that all this tinkering by the Giants is more than worrisome. In fact, with baseball success such a tricky and fleeting thing for so many, one might fear that if Belt stops hitting entirely due to the stance adjustment Ratto said the Giants are pushing for, his career may never recover.

The Good: Even if you don’t think the Giants know what they’re doing, that with dozens of people collecting paychecks who’ve played, coached, scouted and lived baseball for decades, the organization still has absolutely no idea how to handle young players or teach hitting … you still have to admit this: the Giants sure seem to be putting a lot of effort into Belt for a guy they supposedly are trying to bury.

Belt is quite likable, and with his statistical resume in the minors it’s tempting for many to just hand him his bat and glove, give him a regular spot in the lineup and watch in wonder as he works on figuring out Major League pitchers for himself. And if Belt had no pedigree, mediocre athleticism and middling talent, the Giants wouldn’t scrutinize his every move. Perhaps after all this is over — the promotions/demotions, changes in approach and stance — Belt will actually turn out perfect in the Giants’ eyes, too.

You know, after four or five more months in Fresno.

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