San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Saturday, with position players set to arrive next week.
Although he has not yet made it to Arizona, Brandon Belt is on the minds of many Giants fans. Specifically, how the young player will fare in his spring-long competition against Aubrey Huff and Brett Pill to impress enough to gain significant playing time, either at first base or in left field.
Belt's constant promotion, benching and demotion in favor of the perpetually-slumping Aubrey Huff was a source of frustration for many fans last year and almost certainly for Belt, as well. The Giants front office has also been high as of late on the power and RBI-generating potential of longtime minor league first baseman Brett Pill. On top of all that, the team is expected to have found their everyday outfielders in Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz. It would seem that Belt has an uphill battle ahead of him.
Andrew Baggarly, the newest addition to the CSN Bay Area family, recently spoke to Belt and made the young player the focus of his column on Saturday. He notes that Belt had a productive offseason, sharpening his skills in the Dominican League over the winter. Belt will come into Spring Training having accrued an additional six weeks of plate appearances and playing time.
But if Belt doesn't tear the cover off the ball in the spring, there is a chance that he could still find himself back in Fresno to start the year.
To a large extent, the situation is out of Belt's control. For example, suppose Posey's ankle doesn't respond well and he has to play more first base as a result. Not only would that take away opportunities for Belt at first base, but it also might necessitate a third catcher - and the need for an additional roster spot.
Perhaps showing a maturity beyond his years, Baggarly reports that this situation isn't fazing Belt.
But here's the key: Belt understands all this now. He doesn't plan to let his self esteem ebb and flow with every clue or every roster decision, as it did last year. He mentioned a conversation in the Dominincan with scouting director John Barr, who gave him a simple message: "We believe in you. We know the kind of player you are and who you will be." He said those words made an impact.
And listening to him speak in casual conversation, Belt did strike me as having a different edge in his voice and look in his eye. He spoke of feeling a sense of belonging, and if he starts to go into a tailspin at the plate, he knows it's a matter of mechanics and not mentality.
Regardless of what ends up happening, it is likely that Belt's season will be much like last year's: anything but boring. Hopefully, it will be a positive experience for Belt and the breakout year that fans hoped they would see in 2011.
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