This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
After a disappointing 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants hope to bounce back in 2014. Last season, the Giants struggled in many different areas, and they were generally very inconsistent.
The Giants have addressed many of these issues in the offseason, for example, by acquiring Tim Hudson and Michael Morse (more on him here). Given these additions, the Giants should be able to compete for the NL West title in 2014.
These three players are the main offensive weapons for the Giants, but there’s one more player who could help make the Giants a legitimate postseason threat next season.
Their young first baseman, Brandon Belt, will have a breakout year in 2014. Last season, Belt started to find that consistency that he’s had so much trouble finding in his young career. Based on the success he had in the second half last season, Belt will carry the confidence that he gained into this upcoming season and have a breakout year.
In the first half of last season, Belt hit just .260. In the second half of last season, Belt hit an impressive .326. Why did Belt have such a stellar second half after having an average, somewhat forgettable first half?
Belt made some crucial adjustments to his swing. He started using a looser grip on the bat, and he moved further back in the batter’s box.
Belt has tried making several minor tweaks to his swing over the course of his career. However, most of them didn’t have much significant, prolonged success. For a young player who had been so successful at the minor league level, Belt was somewhat stubborn about making significant adjustments to his swing.
Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens knew of Belt’s reluctance to change his swing, so he tried appealing to him with a real-life example. Meulens told Belt that Domonic Brown of the Philadelphia Phillies made a similar adjustment and had seen much success because of it. Brown broke out in 2013 and hit .272 with 27 home runs and 83 RBI last season. He was also named a 2013 All-Star.
Brown and Belt are both 25 years-old, they’re both 6-foot-5, they’re both left-handed hitters and they were both top prospects. Given these similar characteristics, Belt was intrigued by the change. He also was willing to make the adjustment because Brown told Meulens that it only took him a few days to fully adjust to the new grip.
Bruce Bochy was the one who suggested the move back in the batter’s box. Bochy noticed that Belt, like many players in MLB, tend to move up in the batter’s box in anticipation of hitting the ball. However, moving back in the box gives the hitter more time to see the ball and decide whether to swing or not.
After making these adjustments, Belt drastically reduced his fly-ball percentage. Belt struggled mightily in this category in the first half of the season, as he had a 43.9 percent fly-ball rate.
In the second half, Belt decreased his fly-ball rate to 38.2 percent. Although this doesn’t sound like a drastic change, it’s certainly an improvement in a fly-ball-heavy ballpark like AT&T Park. Belt also decreased his strikeout rate from 23.5 percent in the first half of the season to 19.8 percent in the second half.
Based on all these adjustments, Belt became the middle-of-the-order threat that the Giants believed he could be for so long. Because of this impressive hitting, Bochy moved Belt to the number three hole, which he also seemed to flourish in. In the month of August, he hit .350 with a 1.051 OPS. In September and October, he hit .341 with a .910 OPS.
Hypothetically, it makes sense why Belt would do well in the No. 3 spot. Belt has shown he can hit for average and that he has power, two characteristics necessary for the No. 3 hitter, who is traditionally the best hitter in the lineup. Bochy has said that he plans on keeping Belt in the No. 3 spot this season, so Belt needs to continue to bring that production from that spot.
The three spot is so crucial, especially for the Giants. Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro have shown that they can get on base consistently, so Belt needs to be able to bring them in or move them over. Then Posey and Pence can come in and do the rest of the work.
In addition to his improved offense, Belt is an elite first baseman defensively. He has great instincts, he reacts quickly, and he’s fundamentally sound at first base. Brian Sabean showed Alex Pavlovic of the Bay Area News Group how impressed he is with Belt’s all-around game.
“He continues to learn as a hitter, and the better hitter he becomes, the more power you’re going to see,” general manager 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.”
Belt needs to come into the 2014 season and build on the confidence and the momentum that he gained last season. Belt has always had trouble finding that consistency, so that remains the challenge for him.
Based on the consistency that he showed at the end of last season and his embrace of the adjustments he’s made at the plate, Belt will have a breakout season in 2014.