This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
Brandon Belt has always had an enormous amount of potential. Offensively, he has power, a good eye, and an ability to find ways to get on base. Defensively, Belt has been the strongest first baseman in the the Giants’ farm system.
After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants, he rose quickly through the Giants’ system and played at three different levels of minor league baseball in 2010. Belt was brought up to San Francisco in 2011 but was sent back and forth between the Giants and their AAA team, the Fresno Grizzlies, several times.
Belt has always had to compete for his starts and his at-bats, whether it be against Aubrey Huff or Brett Pill. After struggling in the beginning of last season, Belt secured his starting role and had a quality second half when he hit .293 and had a .362 OBP.
This year was the first time in his career that he knew going into the season that he was the Giants’ everyday first baseman. Despite knowing this, Belt’s stats have been up and down all season. He started off the season slowly by only hitting .235 in April. He improved slightly in May when he hit .266 and improved a little more in June when he hit .289. Then he only hit .225 in July.
However, Belt has had an incredible August. He’s currently hitting .379 with five home runs and 11 RBI’s, and he has a .463 OBP, a .776 slugging percentage, and a 1.239 OPS, which ranks first among all NL first basemen in August. Also, Belt ranks fourth in the NL with a .822 OPS for the whole season, only behind Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, and Freddie Freeman.
Throughout his career, Belt has been labeled as “too good for the minors but too inconsistent in the big leagues.” So where does that leave him on this Giants team? Is he truly their first baseman of the future?
Even though he’s been inconsistent throughout his short career, Belt has made a big statement to the Giants and their fans this August. He’s hitting the ball extremely well right now, and, as always, he’s playing stellar first base.
However, this isn’t the big statement that he’s made. Belt has shown that he is willing to make adjustments for the betterment of the team, and that is the type of player that the Giants will want for the future.
Belt has had to make adjustments his whole career. He’s made several minor tweaks to his swing over the years, in order to find that same consistency and dominance that he displayed in the minor leagues.
The Giants have tried many times to make more permanent, drastic adjustments to the basic mechanics of his swing, but, for the most part, Belt has stuck with the same swing that he used in the minors.
“I was stubborn in the sense that I had had success a certain way before, and I was assuming I could get back to being successful that way,” Belt said.
Belt’s reluctance to alter his swing wasn’t because he wasn’t willing to change. He has had a lot thrown at him during his time with the Giants, and many people forget that he’s still developing as a major league hitter. Adjusting the swing that a player has used his entire life and has had success with is a lot to ask of a young player. He is a true professional, and he wants what’s best for the team.
The Giants know that Belt has potential to be a serious middle-of-the-order threat given his power and high OBP. That’s why they wanted Belt to adjust his swing recently, in order to help themselves in the future but to also help Belt have a more prominent career.
Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens found a way to “convince” Belt that a new grip would help him reach his potential. Meulens saw this same adjustment made by a similar player in style to Belt, Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies. Both of these players are 25 years-old, they’re both 6-foot-5, they’re both left-handed hitters, and they were both top prospects.
Brown changed his grip on the bat recently, and he has had a breakout season because of it. He’s hitting .277 with 27 home runs and 78 RBI’s, and he was selected to be a 2013 NL All-Star. Brown told Meulens that this change of grip only took him a few days to fully adjust to, which was appealing to Belt that it wasn’t a major adjustment.
After consulting other Giants such as Buster Posey, Belt decided to try out the new, looser grip. Bruce Bochy also noticed that Belt was moving up in the batter’s box in anticipation of hitting the ball. In order to address this, Belt now positions himself further back in the batter’s box, which allows him to see the pitches longer.
Clearly, based on his statistics from August, the adjustment has paid off.
“I want to make the jump,” Belt said. “I didn’t want to keep spinning my wheels in the same spot. I knew there was more in there. I just went all-in on these changes, and it’s working so far.”
Yes, Belt has made adjustments before, and he has had hot streaks after making adjustments before. This time is different though. He knows he is the Giants’ everyday first baseman. He’s not making adjustments in order to gain an edge over someone. He already has that edge.
In a way, he’s already proven that he’s a quality first baseman. He was the Giants’ starting first baseman when they won the World Series last year.
Belt must search for consistency though. If he’s able to consistently apply his new grip to his hitting, Belt could finish this season strong and potentially have a breakout season next year.
Yes, his development has possibly been rushed, which could be a significant contributor to his inconsistency. Also, given the amount of changes he’s had to endure over his short career has most likely messed with his confidence at times.
However, he’s shown that he is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Now, the Giants just have to trust in his ability.
“He continues to learn as a hitter, and the better hitter he becomes, the more power you’re going to see,” Brian Sabean said. “And he’s very much on the path to being a Gold Glove first baseman. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Sabean believes that Brandon Belt is the Giants’ first baseman of the future. Now it’s Belt’s turn to believe it.