When Brandon Belt began the 2010 season, there were probably few, if any, people who thought he'd be pushing for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring.
And yet, that's exactly where the University of Texas product stands. A fifth-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, he made his pro debut last year and certainly made it count. The season began with advanced Class A San Jose and ended with Triple-A Fresno. His .352 combined average was the second highest in the Minor Leagues, as was his .455 on-base percentage, and he was among the Minor League leaders in a host of other offensive categories. He capped it all off with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League.
"Since the season's been over with, I had time to reflect [and] think about what I've been able to do over this past year that I can actually take into [this] year," said Belt, who came in at No. 26 on MLB.com's Top 50 Prospect rankings. "I think it will help me be prepared mentally and physically in Spring Training."
Prepared to do what, he's not entirely sure. Belt is an excellent first baseman, but can also capably handle an outfield corner. And while Belt is creating buzz as the next prospect to make an impact, a la Buster Posey, the re-signing of Aubrey Huff makes things a little more difficult to figure out. Could a big spring land Belt on the Opening Day roster, even though he has just 13 games at the Triple-A level under his belt? Only time will tell.
"They hadn't given me too much of an indication; I'm going to take it as I have the chance to go in there and win a job," Belt said before Spring Training began. "I'm going to go in there and do the same thing I've done in the past -- just come in there and play my game, work hard and play hard. Hopefully, it all works out for the best for me.
Belt has shown one of the best approaches at the plate among all hitting prospects, with outstanding discipline and the ability to hit for both average and some power. Perhaps more impressive has been his ability to make changes to help him jump on the fast track. Belt virtually remade his setup and swing at the plate before the 2010 season, and to say he took to it quickly would be a vast understatement. That ability to adjust, and to continue to do so as he moved up levels, should serve him well down the road.
"You hear this all the time: It's just a game of adjustments," Belt said. "There are always going to be things I need to work on. The biggest part about that is I have to figure it out myself sometimes, just make adjustments on my own. If I can do that, I think it will help me be successful in the future."
Giants' Top 10 Prospects
1. Belt, 1B/OF: It's a question of when, not if, he hits San Francisco in 2011. He has great plate discipline, the ability to hit for average and some power, and he even runs the bases well. The Giants will find room for this left-handed-hitting prospect at first or in the outfield soon.
2. Zack Wheeler, RHP: The Giants' first-round pick in 2009 threw just 58 2/3 innings last year, largely because of a fingernail issue. There were some highlights, including going to the Futures Game, and his heavy fastball looks like a real worm-killer (2.61 GO/AO). He'll turn 21 in May and could be ready to move up a level to start this season.
3. Gary Brown, OF: Guys from Cal State-Fullerton usually know how to play, and Brown, a 2010 first-rounder, is no exception. He's got plus-plus speed and will be a major basestealing threat. He makes consistent contact and plays a very strong center field. If he can improve his walk rate, he could become a premium leadoff hitter in San Francisco in short order. He might go straight to San Jose to begin the season.
4. Francisco Peguero, OF: The 2010 Futures Gamer helped San Jose win back-to-back California League titles the past two years. Now it's time to see what the speedy center fielder can do in Double-A. He's very aggressive in all facets of the game, but will need to refine his multiple tools as he moves up the ladder.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
6. Ehire Adrianza, SS: Adrianza fits the profile of a very-good-glove, not-so-good-bat shortstop. His defense is plus across the board, from range to hands to arm. He has not been nearly as good offensively, with no pop and not a ton of hitting ability to date. He can run a little, and if he can swing the bat even halfway decently, perhaps beginning this year in Double-A, he should have a long career, thanks to his glove.
7. Thomas Neal, OF: It's always nice to see a player make adjustments, especially in that jump to Double-A. Neal shook off a .231 April last year and performed well the rest of the way, raising his OPS 81 points in the second half compared to the first. He's a solid, if unspectacular, all-around player who should hit for some average and power as he progresses. Triple-A will be his home to start this season, but he could help out in the bigs at some point.
8. Eric Surkamp, LHP: A hip injury cut short a California League All-Star season for the 2008 sixth-rounder while he was putting up outstanding numbers for the second straight season. The big lefty doesn't throw hard, but he's got excellent command and two plus secondary pitches in his curve and changeup. The Eastern League should be a good challenge and a good place to pitch in 2011.
9. Tommy Joseph, C: The 2009 second-rounder had an up-and-down first full season. He showed some of the power that intrigued scouts when he was in high school, but he also only hit .236 with a ton of strikeouts and few walks. He has a way to go as a catcher, and there's some thought that he'll end up at first. Still, there's a lot to like about his bat, and if he moves up to the California League, the 19-year-old could put up some big numbers there.
10. Brandon Crawford, SS: The UCLA product can be an excellent shortstop, and he even has some power. The big question is whether he'll hit enough to tap into that and be an everyday big leaguer. He's struck out 217 times in 222 games and has a .729 career OPS. He should move up to Triple-A this year, but while his glove is ready to help out in San Francisco, if needed, his bat may not be just yet.
Under the Radar
Jake Dunning, RHP: At first glance, Dunning is a 22-year-old reliever who has yet to pitch in full-season ball after being drafted in the 33rd round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. But a closer look will reveal that Dunning was a shortstop at Indiana University who threw only sparingly, and that the Giants started converting him to the mound over the past year. Dunning has a terrific arm, striking out 46 and walk only eight in 36 2/3 innings for short-season Salem-Keizer last year. He could start to move more quickly as he figures out the craft.
Juan Perez, OF: When the Giants drafted Perez from the junior-college scene in the 13th round in 2008, he was a middle infielder. Perez played second base a good deal during his first season with Augusta, but the Giants liked his athleticism and thought it would play well in the outfield. He's become a solid defender who can cover ground and showed improvement with the bat in '10. He's made the All-Star team in each league he's played in so far. Now, the 24-year-old will give Double-A a try.
Hitter of the Year -- Culberson, 2B
Culberson will show that 2010 was no fluke and will continue to hit in Double-A to cement himself as one of the better second-base prospects in the game. He'll hit for average, steal 20-plus bases and reach double digits in homers, to boot.
Pitcher of the Year -- Surkamp
It wouldn't be shocking to see Wheeler walk away with this, but his age and having to pitch in the California League don't work in his favor. Surkamp will stay healthy, and throwing in the pitching-friendly Eastern League should allow him to win the ERA and strikeout titles in the system.