Belt playing for AFL title to cap huge year

Belt playing for AFL title to cap huge year

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Giants first-base prospect Brandon Belt has now played in more than 150 games during his first season of professional baseball, but no one could blame him for not wanting it to come to an end.

"I think anybody towards the end of the season is going to be a little empty in the tank, but you find ways to get yourself ready for ballgames," Belt said before his Scottsdale Scorpions took on the Peoria Saguaros on the final Monday of the Arizona Fall League season. "You have to be ready no matter how you feel or how tired you are."

With three more hits, including a double and a triple, on Monday, Belt lifted his AFL average up to .392, so it might not be the easiest thing to believe he's at all fatigued. He's going to finish the fall season among the league leaders in a host of offensive categories and is a big reason why Scottsdale will play in Saturday's AFL championship game. The game will be broadcast live from Scottsdale Stadium on MLB.com and MLB Network at noon PT.

An AFL title would just be the cherry on the top of what was an extraordinary debut season by any measurement. The 2009 fifth-round pick led the Minor Leagues with a 1.075 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He finished second in batting average (.352) and on-base percentage (.455) while ending up fourth in RBIs (112) and seventh in slugging percentage (.620). He did it while playing across three levels, starting with Class A Advanced San Jose and finishing in Triple-A Fresno.

"It was an incredible offensive year," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said. "We couldn't keep him in San Jose, then he did a lot of the same things in Double-A.

"Our hitting guys made some slight adjustments with him and he's taken to them. He's shown the ability to hit to all fields, with power, a disciplined hitter with a good feel up there. The AFL pitching has had a chance to get to know him as well."

Big league pitchers might get the chance next at the rate he's going. The University of Texas product certainly had confidence in his ability to hit, but even he admitted he was surprised just how well things went in his debut. It's something he's perhaps more willing to acknowledge now than while he was in the midst of piling up those gaudy numbers.

"I tried to avoid doing that because I didn't want it to go away," Belt said with a laugh. "I've always known I had the ability to do that. I just didn't think it was going to happen this fast. I just tried to keep the same routine throughout the season to try and stay consistent as long as I could. Fortunately, it's worked out for me and it's carried over into the Fall League a little bit."

Certainly a strong candidate, if not the front-runner, to win MLB.com Minor League Hitter of the Year honors, Belt has had an MVP-caliber Fall League campaign as well, putting an exclamation point on a season that has taken Belt from being just another college hitter entering the pro ranks to skyrocketing up prospect lists everywhere.

Still, there's a humility in how Belt speaks about what's happened in 2010. He got the chance to play in the AFL Rising Stars Game -- the best of the best -- and showed some serious plate discipline (not to mention the respect of opposing pitchers) by drawing three walks. While Belt clearly feels he belongs in this rarified air, he does so without any sense of entitlement.

"I keep on telling people that's one of the best experiences I've ever had," Belt said of the Rising Stars experience. "Just because of the competition and the atmosphere, even though we lost. You get to see all the great players here; it was fun to be a part of.

"It's a real big honor to be able to come here. You see the great prospects who have been here in the past. A lot of the great ballplayers, some of them were put in the Hall of Fame this week. It's a fun experience to be able to play against the best competition in the Minor Leagues. I think it shows the team has a lot of confidence in whoever they send out here, so I'm very excited about the opportunity to play here."

Belt isn't one to rest on his laurels, though. He fully understands this is a "what have you done for me lately" business and while he has an appreciation of what he accomplished in 2010, he knows that will mean very little if he can't continue it in 2011 and beyond.

"I have to let go of what happened in the past," Belt said. "This season is over with. I have to get ready to move on to the next season. I can't dwell on how well I've done this past year because it's not going to help me when I go on to next year.

"I have to be just as mentally ready next year as I was this year. I'm going into Spring Training with the idea that I'm going to have the chance to walk out of there with a job, Hopefully. If not, that's fine. I'm still going to give it my best shot and see what happens."

Before he completely turns the page, he'll get the chance to play for a ring. Belt has won titles in summer leagues in the past, but he's narrowly missed on larger stages. His Texas team played in the 2009 College World Series championship, but lost to LSU. Belt will likely get a ring for his first-half contribution to the San Jose Giants, who went on to win the California League title. Getting another crack at a ring is certainly not something the first baseman takes for granted.

"Anytime you get to play in a championship game, you're always looking forward to it," Belt said. "You definitely want to take home the gold. Second place isn't a fun place to be. I think this entire team will go into it ready to win this game on Saturday."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.