Brandon Belt’s two year stint in the major leagues has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. From top prospect to winning the first base job in 2011 to bouncing between the minor leagues and the majors, he seems primed to breakout in 2013.
With Aubrey Huff a figure of the past and Buster Posey stable at catcher, first base is his job to lose. No longer will manager Bruce Bochy give him the “baby” treatment, and no longer will Belt have a lack of playing time to defer to when he is struggling.
With that, here are three bold predictions.
Hits 25+ Home Runs
On the surface, this may seem a bit preposterous for someone who has compiled 16 home runs in two years at the major league level. However, there’s a reason to that.
In his first two years in the majors, Belt has bounced between the minor leagues and the major leagues and first base to the bench. Maybe this pattern has something to do with Bruce Bochy’s unwillingness to play young players. But the point is that he hasn’t had much consistency wherever he was.
In 2013, however, he should finally be tabbed as San Francisco’s everyday first baseman. So, an everyday role should equate to 550 to 600 at-bats over the course of the 162 game season. After receiving less than 600 at-bats in 2011 and 2012 combined, this is good news for the quirky left-hander. And now his bleak power numbers are beginning to look a bit more justified.
So, let’s continue.
Bill James’s projection system has Belt hitting 16 home runs next year. That projection is more on the realistic side of the spectrum seeing that Belt hit a home run in every 58 at-bats this year. If you were to divide 600 (projected at-bats in 2013) by 58 (at-bats per home run in 2012), you would get a mere ten. Those are just some rough estimates, but feel free to let out a sigh.
But wait. Yes, ten isn’t much of an improvement on his last two seasons, but a combination of more stabilization and natural improvement should surely steer his home run total north of ten. Now, as a barometer for his success in terms of power-hitting, 16 looks adequate.
If Belt finds his power stroke early in the season, then 25 long balls is certainly a realistic total even at the spacious AT&T Park.
Wins a Gold Glove
Of the trio of predictions, capturing a Gold Glove might be the least far-fetched for Belt because he already vaunts highly honed defensive skills. His bat is coming along slowly, but his glove is already established, and many pundits opine that Belt will someday win a gold glove, and possibly multiple.
As for the metrics, well, they’re scattered, supporting him in some areas more than others. One of these supportive areas is in the Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) category. According to Fangraphs, Belt saved five runs this season, good enough for third place amongst qualified National League first basemen. For reference, there were eight qualifiers.
The defensive metrics don’t promote him in Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), however. Belt tallied a mere -1.0 UZR in 2012 which musters him in the middle of Carlos Lee and Ike Davis for the sixth best mark in the N.L. Note that Belt only made 97 plays which, out of the eight qualifiers, is easily the lowest amount of action. So his UZR is a bit off with such minimal action as opposed to the other qualifiers. We should get a much more accurate gauging in 2013, though.
If his offense isn’t up to par yet, perhaps 2013 may be too soon for Belt to win a Gold Glove. You can argue that this award is technically supposed to celebrate the best defensive players, but the offensive numbers seemingly sneak their way into the conversation. That could hurt Belt’s chances. But when his offense and defense both connect, he’s certainly Gold Glove bound.
Winds Up In Left Field By Season’s End
As skilled as Belt is defensively at first base, the Giants could have a hole in left field if they fail to patch it up in the coming weeks. By a hole, I mean a combination of Gregor Blanco and potentially Francisco Peguero.
As good as Blanco was in the playoffs, there are questions regarding his consistency. And for Peguero, he has plenty of holes to deal with himself. So unless repaired, the Giants can’t expect much from left field next year which might lead them to take drastic measures. This is where Belt would come into play.
The “Baby Giraffe” has totaled 35 games in left field over his two years in the league. Four of those 35 came in 2012, and those four all occurred in September. However, there just seems to be some tension with Belt holding down the fort in left. Bochy approached him in September about playing the position, and he nonetheless accepted the role, as the Giants tried to squeeze his bat into the lineup. But Belt in left wasn’t meant to be, as in three of the four games he ultimately found himself back at first base.
Perhaps the Giants close the gap in left field and won’t face this problem, but it’s always something to think about if that spot does indeed become a problem offensively.