San Francisco Giants: How Should the Giants Handle the First Base Conundrum?


June 25, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt (9) celebrates after scoring a run in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

San Francisco Giants first baseman Brandon Belt entered the MLB as a highly touted prospect with boatloads of potential. So far, he hasn’t come close to living up to those expectations.

Belt had trouble adjusting to major league pitching in 2011, his rookie season, and in 2012, his power numbers were underwhelming. In 2013, he has performed worse, as he is hitting just .259. He has a career .258 batting average, and he has averaged a mere 2.6 home runs per 100 plate appearances over the course of his career.

His career slugging percentage is .426, which is certainly underwhelming for someone formerly known as one of the most promising young prospects in baseball. He hasn’t been able to come through with big hits, and he has epitomized inconsistency.

Somehow, he has had 42 games in which he has registered at least one plate appearance and has failed to pick up a hit. His longest hitting streak of the season is just seven games long, which isn’t eye-popping by any means.

In other words, he has been inconsistent and has put up poor numbers. And, he has left the Giants to ponder whether he is the long-term answer at first base.

The Giants could trade Belt, as they have grown frustrated with his play and need starting pitching for the 2014 season (Chad Gaudin, Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong are all impending free agents). If Belt is traded, Brett Pill would take over at first base. Pill is hitting .256 this season, and he has reached base in seven of his last 16 at-bats.

He started all three games of a recent series against the Philadelphia Phillies, and he went 7-for-13 with a home run and four RBI. He also came through in a huge situation during the final game of the series, as he hit a two-strike single and scored the winning run.

He has impressed lately and has made a solid case to receive playing time down the stretch. With Triple-A Fresno, Pill posted a marvelous 1.010 OPS.

Because of his minor league and major league success, Pill will see a plentiful amount of at-bats for the rest of the season. Pill has started four of the Giants’ last six games, and it appears likely that the Giants will continue a platoon at first base.

This means that Belt’s opportunities are diminishing, and it means that he could end up in another uniform if he can’t prove himself by the end of this season. His strikeout totals are absurd, as he has more strikeouts than hits this season and in his career.

Pill also strikes out, but his strikeout totals aren’t horrible. With Fresno, he struck out 40 times in 291 plate appearances for a strikeout rate of 13.7 percent. Belt’s strikeout this season is a miserable 24.4 percent.

Belt’s plate discipline is better, as he has walked in just fewer than 10 percent of his at-bats. Pill doesn’t walk as much, but he can come through with big hits. His slugging percentage this season (in the majors) is better than Belt’s, and he has averaged about four home runs per 100 at-bats over his big league career. In addition, he has homered 18 times in fewer than 300 minor league plate appearances.

So, it’s safe to say he has some power.

Pill’s numbers and Belt’s numbers are similar, but Pill can provide some much-needed pop that Belt hasn’t been able to provide. Pill isn’t an upgrade over Belt, but unlike Belt, he isn’t worth anything on the trade market. If Belt doesn’t take advantage of his at-bats, he could be shipped out.

The Giants would be fine at first without Belt. Pill is a serviceable player, but he isn’t a player who can perform consistently over a 162-game season. Luckily for him, he won’t have to.

Even before Pill was called up, Belt didn’t start every day. Star catcher Buster Posey occasionally plays first base to rest his legs, and he will continue to do so in the future. He has started at first base in 12 games this season, and he has played first base in 16 games.

If Belt is moved, Posey, who was wrecked in a gut-wrenching collision while catching in 2011, would potentially see more time at first base. The Giants, which signed Posey to a $167 million contract extension, want him in the lineup for a long time, and they don’t want him to suffer another brutal injury.

Putting him at first base would decrease his chances of suffering one.

Switching third baseman Pablo Sandoval to first base wouldn’t decrease his injury chances, but it would allow utility infielder Joaquin Arias to see playing time and the Giants to receive production at first base. Sandoval has started 55 major league games at the position, and he has a tremendous .991 fielding percentage there.

However, after injuring his hamstring stretching for a low throw, the Giants decided to put him back at third base, his natural position.

If issues at first come up, however, Sandoval could see more time there. He has surprisingly good range, and he can stretch for low throws. The Giants want his bat in the lineup, and they also want to give Arias, who is hitting .291, playing time.

Shifting Sandoval across the diamond would be a perfect way to do both things.

If Belt is gone in 2014, Posey could start, say, 15 games at first, and Sandoval, Arias (who can play first) and Pill could start the rest of the games. That would allow all three players to rack up enough at-bats, and it would allow Posey to stay fresh while staying in the lineup.

And, more importantly, it would allow the Giants to receive solid production at first base.

Trading Belt and using those four players at first appears to be a solid plan, but the jury is still out. Belt isn’t a bad player, and if he can put up stellar numbers over the last two months, the Giants would likely keep him.

But if not, it could lead to the end of his three-year tenure with the team.

Giants fans have grown frustrated with Belt, and management is feeling the same way. The team isn’t frustrated with Pill, but it knows that he isn’t going to become the next Posey. However, he could definitely handle part-time duties at first base.

Pill deserves a chance, and he will get multiple chances over the last 52 games of the season. If he proves himself worthy of “taking over” for Belt, the Giants would likely hand the part-time job over to him in 2014.

And even if Pill doesn’t do well, the Giants will be fine. In other words, they are loaded with options at first base.