SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt didnt receive a World Series ring last season when his Giants teammates were awarded their baby blue boxes from Tiffany. But hes assembling quite a jewelry collection. And now its going international.Belt played six weeks for Escogido in the Dominican Republic earlier this winter. The club went on to win the Caribbean Series on Feb. 6. And Belt will get his piece of the prize.Its nothing new. Belt has more rings than Sonic the Hedgehog.He picked up an Arizona Fall League ring and a Cape Cod League ring. Even his wooden-bat showcase club in the Texas-Oklahoma collegiate league won its circuit. And lets not forget his ring from the 2010 San Jose Giants, who won the Cal League title.(Belt jokes that he never gets to wear any of them because his father ends up taking them and showing them off.)
Belt believes he picked up much more than a trinket in the Dominican. The Giants hoped playing in that frenzied environment would help their sometimes awkward Baby Giraffe play with a little more poise. Although Belt resisted the teams request at first, he came to realize it was a good opportunity and he ended up throwing himself into it.He said he felt more confident about his approach after competing well against some quality pitching. He stopped being pull conscious and let the ball travel a little deeper, where hes able to square it up and split the outfielders in either gap. He believes he is ready to carry that approach over into this season, too.As the Giants begin the spring, Buster Posey is the most important player in the clubhouse. He will be the most scrutinized of anyone in camp.But Belt is a key figure, too. No player could change his fortunes or impact how the roster is constituted more than he can. If he convinces the Giants that he is ready to be an impact performer, they could be forced to shuffle a lot of pieces (Aubrey Huff in left field? Melky Cabrera from left to right? Nate Schierholtz on the bench?) to carve out a regular spot for Belt at first base.Manager Bruce Bochy is certainly leaving the door open, mentioning that Belt, Huff and Brett Pill will see time at first base and left field."It's going to be competitive -- moreso than in earlier years," he said.To a large extent, the situation is out of Belts control. For example, suppose Poseys ankle doesnt respond well and he has to play more first base as a result. Not only would that take away opportunities for Belt at first base, but it also might necessitate a third catcher and the need for an additional roster spot.Ive covered enough spring training baseball to know: teams almost always act to protect their inventory when they decide who stays and who goes to Triple-A Fresno. So even a terrific spring might not win Belt a job if Huff has an equally impressive camp. If the choice for a roster spot comes down to Belt and Emmanuel Burriss, only Belt has minor league options remaining.But heres the key: Belt understands all this now. He doesnt plan to let his self esteem ebb and flow with every clue or every roster decision, as it did last year. He mentioned a conversation in the Dominincan with scouting director John Barr, who gave him a simple message: We believe in you. We know the kind of player you are and who you will be. He said those words made an impact.And listening to him speak in casual conversation, Belt did strike me as having a different edge in his voice and look in his eye. He spoke of feeling a sense of belonging, and if he starts to go into a tailspin at the plate, he knows its a matter of mechanics and not mentality.Like everything in life, its easier said than done. Those little blue boxes from Tiffany dont come easy, either.--Yes, Angel Villalona has a locker in the major league clubhouse. The former top prospect, who hasnt played in two years while facing a murder charge in the Dominican Republic, is due to report with position players. Major League Baseball removed Villalona from its restricted list after charges were dropped late last year.--In other locker news, Tim Lincecum took over the corner space that Barry Zito had inhabited since 2008. Zito held that spot ever since Barry Bonds left the scene, but said he felt too trapped in there.--The Bod Pod is no more.The training room device, which measures body fat percentage, made for some classic moments last spring. Jeremy Affeldt, who had bragged he could beat Brian Wilson in a race up Camelback Mountain, was forced to backtrack twice as fast. When he donned his shower cap and skivvies and jumped in the bubble-like contraption, his body fat percentage ended up higher than manager Bruce Bochys measurement.Yeah, I beat out a few guys, said a grinning Bochy, remembering he did better than Mark DeRosa, too.But the Bod Pod did not make a return this spring. Maybe Affeldt paid to make it disappear."--It was a pretty typical reporting day for pitchers and catchers, who simply have to check in with staff and schedule a physical. There were a fair amount of position players here, too. Belt, Brandon Crawford and Nate Schierholtz were hitting in the cage before 8 a.m. Emmanuel Burriss is here, too. He spent all offseason working out in San Francisco -- hopefully on his flexibility, as hell probably be asked to play five or six positions this spring.