SAN FRANCISCO -- Steve Decker, who manages the Giants' Triple-A Fresno affiliate, had one offseason wish for Brandon Belt."I hope he doesn't read the paper too much and get involved with being the next prospect," Decker said recently. Ignoring the fuss might be impossible for Belt, given the considerable hype that his 2010 performance generated. Ranked 26th on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects, Belt will arrive at his first Major League Spring Training camp with a decent shot at claiming a spot in the Opening Day lineup. The Giants will send Belt back to the Minor Leagues if he doesn't claim either first base or left field. General manager Brian Sabean has emphasized that Belt won't serve an apprenticeship as a reserve with San Francisco.
Even if Belt does begin the season in the Minors, he appears destined to join the reigning World Series champions sooner rather than later.The Giants, who won it all last year despite ranking ninth in the National League in runs scored, envision Belt as offense personified. Playing at high Class A San Jose, Double-A Richmond and Triple-A Fresno, Belt hit a combined .352 with 23 home runs and 112 RBIs in 136 games. He garnished that with 93 walks, a .455 on-base percentage and a .620 slugging percentage. Belt followed that up with a superb Arizona Fall League campaign for the Scottsdale Scorpions. In 22 games, he hit .372 with 16 RBIs and a .427 on-base percentage. Though Belt homered only once in 86 at-bats, he fattened his slugging percentage to .616 with eight doubles and five triples. The 22-year-old also excelled whether he played infield or outfield, though he's considered more adept at first base.
"He really knows what he's doing out there," Decker said.Belt's batting averageg with Fresno was the only remotely negative aspect of his performance last year. He hit .229 in 13 games once he reached the Minors' highest rung.
"Triple-A pitching was a stretch for him," said Decker, who pointed out that Belt happened to face some of the Pacific Coast League's top staffs. Decker added with a laugh: "You can hit .340 or .350 for only so long."Belt still amassed 13 walks and four homers with Fresno, hiking the left-handed batter's on-base and slugging percentages to .393 and .563, respectively. "His strike-zone awareness is extremely good -- a lot like Buster's," Decker said. That's a reference to catcher Buster Posey, who contributed mightily to the Giants' success while winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2010. Posey was the Giants' latest homegrown product, sustaining a lineage that includes Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner, Brian Wilson, Pablo Sandoval, Sergio Romo, Nate Schierholtz, Travis Ishikawa and Dan Runzler. Belt is expected to keep that stream flowing. "I have to let go of what happened in the past," Belt told MLB.com in mid-November. "This season is over with. I have to get ready to move on to the next season. I can't dwell on how well I've done this past year, because it's not going to help me when I go on to next year. "I have to be just as mentally ready next year as I was this year. I'm going into Spring Training with the idea that I'm going to have the chance to walk out of there with a job, hopefully. If not, that's fine. I'm still going to give it my best shot and see what happens."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.