I remember seeing Brandon Belt (1B) here at the University of Texas in a handful of games I attended across the 2008 and 2009 seasons. My thought coming away was always, “How is he not better?” He definitely looked like a ballplayer and he would have good plays here & there, but terribly inconsistent. He hit a pedestrian-for-college .321 in 124 games but showed exceptional plate discipline (67 BB to 74 K) and a modicum of gap power. The only thing that really jumped off of the stat page was his 15 steals in 2009. You just don’t expect 6’5”/195 first basemen to run much at all let alone swipe double digit bags.
To be 100% honest, I kind of forgot him once he left. It wasn’t until early this summer that I saw he was in the San Francisco system putting together a solid beginning to the season. Earlier this month I saw him at the Arizona Fall League in Phoenix and came away with a completely different outlook on him. I learned from some scouts that the Giants completely reworked his swing from the ground up in hopes of better utilizing his plate discipline and extracting the power locked up in that sizable frame.
The results were amazing as he raked through three levels in his first professional season with the majority of his time with San Jose in High-A where hit posted a .383/.492/.628 line in 77 games. That earned him a promotion to AA where stayed hot to the tune of .337/.413/.623 in 46 games. He was again promoted, this time to AAA and though the batting average dropped he still went .229/.393/.563 in 13 games. Be wary of the tiny sample as 3-4 extra hits would’ve taken his average up to the .290-.310 range so the .229 is very misleading.
He has stayed hot this fall (.392/.449/.658 w/14 XBH out of 31) and looked very sharp in the three games I saw him play. He took what the pitchers gave him whether it meant blooping a ball over the shortstop’s head for a single or smashing a mistake into the gap for a double or working a walk. His approach is very crisp. Here is a look at the swings from his at-bats slowed down:
As for Belt moving forward, I see him with a Joey Votto-lite ceiling. I’m not sure he can consistently hit .320 like Votto, rather closer to .290 perhaps sprinkling a .300+ season in as his luck fluctuates, but he will likely manage .400 on-base percentages with his plate patience. For power, I have him more in the low 20s while I see Votto capable of stringing together some low 30s seasons together (his high 30s 2010 had some favorable luck behind it). And the two meet in the road the speed as they are both adept at swiping bags despite their looks suggesting otherwise.
Barring a huge spring, Belt will likely start 2011 at AAA and get some more seasoning, but he can’t be long for the minors if he keeps raking as he did in 2010. He is primarily a first baseman, but he played a little rightfield in his AAA stint. If he can adequately play either position, his chances to reach the majors sooner increase as the Giants are far from locked in at first or either corner outfield spot.
Here is another video of his whole at-bats. It is a bit sped up which I didn’t do on purpose, but it happened three different times when I uploaded it so I just left it: