What’s all the Huff about?

With just a few days to go until Opening Day, the San Francisco Giants are still undecided on where to put Brandon Belt. Much like this season, Belt was on fire in the spring in 2011 but struggled early in April and was demoted to Triple-A. The Giants went with Aubrey Huff at first base last year—as well as 22 awful games in the outfield. Now another hot spring by Belt has forced the Giants to make a choice, but where will the Giants put the “baby Giraffe?”

There is no denying Huff had an amazing 2010 for the Giants and deserved a role with the 2011 team, but I doubt anyone expected him to repeat those numbers at the age of 34—except perhaps Bruce Bochy and the Giants front office apparently. Huff has been up and down since 2004, posting great seasons in the even years and down numbers in odd-year seasons. Obviously not a way to pick your team, but his aging curve hasn’t been much of a curve.

The Giants have been stuck with Huff in this spot, owing him $11 million last season and $10 million in 2012. He’s seen mostly as a corner infielder, but with Pablo Sandoval manning third base, he has only one spot to play. His attempts to man any of the outfield postions have been disastrous, at best. It’s fair to say the Giants with a payroll just over $125MM would hate to either bench Huff or play him in one of the outfield positions.

So Belt is blocked at first base, which is his natural position, by money and the team looking for an even-year bounce from Huff in his final guaranteed season in San Francisco. After playing 241 innings in the outfield last season, that would seem to be the place to move Belt, but not so fast. The Giants decided adding Melky Cabrera would be a better option this offseason, an odd choice as someone who had a career season last year playing meaningless games for the Kansas City Royals.

Brandon Belt
MLB spring training: San Francisco Giants at Seattle Mariners(US Presswire)

Cabrera is due to play left field with Angel Pagan manning center field and, as of this time, Nate Schierholtz planned in right field.

While Pagan is a speed guy with good defense (although he struggled in UZR in 2011), Schierholtz seems like the clear odd man out at this stage. His contract is for only $1.3MM in 2012—his first season of arbitration—and he is fairly average across the board. He does everything okay but nothing well or very well.

The Giants should make their choice clears as the talent possessed by Belt is something they don’t want to waste. Belt has drawn many favorable comparisons to players like Paul O’Neill, Will Clark and J.T. Snow—as long as his bat comes to life as expected.

It’s tough to see his bat failing after posting a .971 OPS in 273 plate appearances at Triple-A. To put that in perspective, Joey Votto had an .859 OPS in Triple-A. That might not be a great comparison, but Votto makes an okay-to-good comparison for Belt.

Both players are solid fielders at the first base position, while Votto also was forced into six games played in the outfield in Cincinnati. Votto, of course, spent his time in waiting behind Adam Dunn, who made a much better roadblock than Huff in San Francisco. Both Votto and Belt are known for excellent plate discipline and an ability to take walks. Last season, Belt walked 19.8 percent of the time at Triple-A, and although he struggled to take free passes in the majors, he was still walking 9.6 percent of the time.

Votto and Belt also have good contact skills, which result in solid average and on-base numbers for both of them. The power numbers are tough to judge as Belt hasn’t had a full Triple-A season, but he’s only 23 and did total 23 homers in 2010 across three minor-league levels. At 23, Votto was playing a full season in Double-A and totalled 22 home runs.

With Votto making the big bucks this week, it raises a good question as to what postion could pay the best for Belt in the long run. He’s going to have a while to prove himself before signing any big contracts, but would a 25-home run season with very good on-base skills be worth more to teams in a corner outfield spot that at first base.

I think the answer comes down to how much power he develops as he grows. If he tops 30 home runs—like Votto did at the age of 26—teams will be bidding left and right for him with his all-around offensive and defensive skills, not to mention his 10-12 steal ability. It’s no wonder fans are just itching to see Belt play at any position the Giants can find.

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  1. aweb said...

    Not sure why you had the shot at the Royals – meaningless games? Are players on bad teams not allowed to have good years? Do other teams not try and get him out because his team wasn’t very good? There are lots of quick, one off reasons to throw doubt on Melky, but because he played for the Royals is not one of those reasons.

  2. ecpglp said...

    aweb, I was wondering that too.  Seems to me that playing “meaningless games for the Royals” is a dandy way to revive one’s career. 

    Anyway, I’m not sure the point of asking now “what position will pay the best for Belt in the long run.”  How about let’s just get him playing instead of worrying about how much money he’s going to make in the future?  And before speculating on all those future 30-home run seasons, let’s remember he plays in AT&T park.

  3. Steve Treder said...

    No one agrees more than me that the Giants’ handling of Belt has been a directionless botch.  They haven’t demonstrated a hint of appreciation for his potential or a plan for his deployment.

    There is a glimmer of good news, however:  over the final several games of spring training, Bochy has at last been starting Belt at 1B, and relegating Huff to the corner outfield/utility role.  Keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll at last show some patience with Belt and give him the opportunity to develop.

  4. CraigM said...

    If you read the SF Giants fan forum at MLB.com, the topic of Brandon Belt playing time has been discussed endlessly for the past year. And the heavy majority want Huff benched in favor of Belt.

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