SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. Manager Bruce Bochy cant stroll througha mall without being approached by Giants fans. And all of them seem to bemembers of the Brandon Belt fan club.
After the hellos and platitudes, they often sneak in a Hey,play the kid, will ya?"So when Beltwent 3 for 4 with a home run while serving as the designated hitter in Saturdays Cactus League opener, Bochycouldnt resist the urge to have a little fun.Boy, Belts been locked in, hasnt he? the manager said, grinning.All kidding aside, Bochy acknowledges that Belt presents the Giants toughest callof the spring. Their roster, already stuffed with lefty bats, actually fitstogether easier if he starts the season in Triple-A Fresno. It means AubreyHuff would play first base instead of left field, where hed be a questionmark.
But if Belt convinces the front office and coaching staffthat he is ready to be an impact performer against major league pitching,theyll have to pay their respects to that. Like all those Giants fans he meets, Bochy wants to put his best team on the field, too.
Right now, Bochy cant say whether the Giants will be abetter team on opening day with Belt or without him. Thats what they hope tofind out in the next four weeks.Hes a good player. We know that, Bochy said. Well betalking about Brandon Belt quite a bit, what he can bring. Hes a guy who willprobably be decided in the last part of the spring.Belt had three of the Giants nine hits in a 9-6 loss toArizona. He tomahawked a single in the first inning off Arizonas JoshCollmenter. He singled to right in the sixth against Ryan Budde. Then hepounded his homer over the right field fence off Yonata Ortega in the ninth.(It wouldve been off the bricks at AT&T Park, though.)Bochy liked the fact that Belt was aggressive early in thecount. He took a healthy cut at the first pitch he saw from Collmenter,swinging through it.Hes swinging well, Bochy said. Last spring, he swung thebat well. He came in ready to go.We want these guys to let it go when they get a pitch tohit, but lay off the tough pitches, too. The thing about Brandon, he knows whathe needs to work on. But when he gets a good pitch, hey, let it go.Thats what Belt tried to do in the Dominican winter leagueand thats what he plans to carry over.Id rather be overaggressive and have to back off than bepassive and have to dial it up, he said. Once you figure that stuff out, itdoesnt leave you. For the most part, you remember it.Belt remembers everything coming far too easily in 2010,when he hit .352 with a 1.075 OPS while zooming from Single-A San Jose toDouble-A Richmond to Triple-A Fresno.But he made a fairly stunning admission about hisseason-long hot streak that burst him into the elite prospects rankings.In 2010, even when I was hitting well, I didnt have anyidea what I was doing, he said. I was just hitting.He never had to dig his way out of a slump. So when thathappened at various junctures in the big leagues last season, he didnt havethe experience to know what to do.I dont think I took the time to figure out what was goingon, he said. It was all so fast. I didnt take the time to regroup.He said he did some of that thinking in the 10 days betweenthe end of last season and his first game for Escogido in the Dominican.Asked if he would rather be a bench player in the bigleagues or a starter at Triple-A, Belt made another surprising comment. He saidhed rather play.Thats a tough decision, he said. We all want to be in thebig leagues. But my main goal is to play every day. If I have to start inFresno, thats what Ill do. Then my goal will be to produce enough to get backup here.