There was a time, not long ago, when Giants manager Bruce Bochy would turn in his chair in his Scottsdale Stadium office and look at the wall behind him. And look. And look.
On the wall is a list of prospective Giants for the coming season. In Bochy’s first two years with the club, 2007 and ’08, he would stare at the names in silence, as if staring hard enough would produce better options.
The defending World Series champions are loaded, and one glorious name jumps off the wall the way the ball jumps off his bat, complicating a quiet spring training as only a soaring prospect can.
Hello, Brandon Belt.
The Giants planned for him to start the season at Triple A, but now they’re not so sure. To carry Belt, a first baseman, the team not only would need to move Aubrey Huff to left field, but perhaps also swallow the remaining $24 million on center fielder Aaron Rowand’s contract and part with first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who is out of options.
That’s asking an awful lot, but Giants general manager Brian Sabean told the San Francisco Chronicle that the team would base its decision on baseball, not business. Teams always say such things, of course. But with Belt, the Giants actually might follow through — and should, considering what Belt might mean to their team.
Belt, who turns 23 on April 20, could emerge as a left-handed version of Buster Posey, who last season won the National League Rookie of the Year.
“I think he’s going to be a superstar,” Giants shortstop Miguel Tejada said. “He reminds me of (Joe) Mauer with the way he swings, always staying inside the ball.”
Belt, 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, is thinner than Mauer, who is 6-foot-5, 230. But hitting coach Hensley Meulens had to chuckle Thursday as former major leaguer Shawon Dunston threw batting practice to Belt on a back field.
“You trying to get him out?” Meulens asked. “They can’t get him out in a game!”
Belt actually made outs in all three of his plate appearances against the Angels on Thursday night, grounding out and flying out against righty Dan Haren, then striking out against righty Kevin Jepsen.
Yet, even though his results were poor, he still produced impressive at-bats, seeing 18 pitches in his three plate appearances, rallying from 0-2 to 3-2 against Jepsen before swinging through a high fastball for strike three.
The previous day, Belt had a single, double and homer against the White Sox, twice working full counts against left-hander Mark Buehrle. He further endeared himself to the coaching staff by sliding hard into White Sox catcher Donny Lucy at home plate.
In 50 plate appearances this spring, Belt is batting .283/.340/.522 with two homers and 10 RBIs. He is no fluke, not after leading the minors in OPS last season, his first as a professional, and mashing in the Arizona Fall League. But Opening Night for the Giants is two weeks away.
Maybe Belt will slow down, enabling the team to justify sending him to Triple A. Maybe another player will get hurt, creating a spot. Or maybe the Giants will just say the heck with it, the kid deserves to be on the team.
Moving Huff to left field would be the easy part; Huff, 34, started 24 games in left last season and 33 in right. Rowand, though, is guaranteed $12 million in each of the next two seasons.
A trade of Rowand is all but out of the question, but the Giants might not want to rush into releasing him, even though he seemingly has little left to offer. One day soon, the team might face a similar decision on left-hander Barry Zito, who has $64.5 million remaining on his contract, including a buyout on his club option for 2014.
Then again, such obligations are sunk costs. The Giants aren’t getting their money back, so they might as well do the right thing. In the afterglow of the team’s World Series triumph, few would even bother to remind Sabean of a past mistake.
Rowand, 33, is 6-for-29 this spring. Andres Torres took his job in center last June, and Cody Ross also can play the position. Pat Burrell offers more as right-handed bat off the bench. Mark DeRosa, healthy again, brings more versatility.
The Giants, remember, did not summon Posey last season until May 29; Bengie Molina was still with the club, and club officials wanted Posey to refine his defense. Belt already is above-average at first, a much less difficult position to learn than catcher. Including him on the Opening Day roster likely would result in him gaining an extra year of arbitration, but the Giants have shown in the past that they are willing to take such a hit.
Belt, a fifth-round draft pick in 2009, acts like he belongs — veteran right-hander Jeff Suppan, who dresses at the next locker, described the rookie as a person of “substance.” That much was evident Thursday night. Belt was bothered by his 0-for-3 and vowed afterward to make adjustments in the batting cage Friday afternoon.
The good ones are like that, never satisfied. Belt, though, was affable even after a tough night. He said he does not feel any particular pressure, explaining, “I’ve got to control what I can control. I can control playing hard and having good at-bats.” He called his first major-league spring training “a blast,” and expressed confidence that the team would make the right decision for him.
That is, assuming the Giants actually have a choice.