Few players established themselves last season as well as Brandon Belt did. And it's possible he is the Giants' first baseman this spring after he so thoroughly impressed a front office that is still celebrating a World Series victory.
A fifth-round pick in the 2009 Draft, Belt stormed through the Minor Leagues last summer, reaching Triple-A before earning Rising Star status in the elite Arizona Fall League. General manager Brian Sabean, who assembled the Giants' World Series-winning roster, has been gushing about the infielder.
"He seems to be on a mission," Sabean told the San Francisco Chronicle in December. "He opened everybody's eyes."
Sabean compared him to Buster Posey, the new standard among young catchers. Calling Belt "way above average" defensively and "very advanced as a hitter," he said the 22-year-old -- with just one year in the Minors -- could emerge as the Giants' everyday first baseman or outfielder this spring.
So it's a good time to be Brandon Belt, recently ranked No. 26 on MLB.com's list of the Top 50 Prospects. The Texas native recently spoke to MiLB.com:
MiLB.com: I'd typically ask how excited you were to be drafted, but your story is a little different. When the Giants selected you in 2009, it was the third time you'd been drafted, and I believe you were nearly picked by the Cubs out of high school. Was it just a relief to finally sign a contract and know your future?
Brandon Belt: Oh, yeah, definitely. I had some troubles, I guess, with the Draft early on, I didn't know where my career would go. I was a pitcher at first. I thought that's what I'd be as a professional, and when that didn't work out, I didn't know what would happen. When the Giants drafted me, it lifted a weight off my shoulders. It was fun to go out and play baseball and just enjoy it.
MiLB.com: Some fans may not know you were an excellent pitcher in high school and college. And you recently said you believed you'd make it to the pros as a pitcher, not a hitter. Do you miss pitching? Do you find yourself in the field thinking about what you'd throw if you were on the mound?
Brandon Belt: Yeah, I definitely miss it a little bit. I did it for so long, I thought I'd do it as a professional. I still find myself going through mechanics. It's something you think about -- what would you throw in certain situations? And I think that helps me at the plate. I like to play every day, so it worked out for the best. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in the future.
MiLB.com: Who'd you follow growing up in Texas? Is it possible to pitch at the University of Texas and not be a Roger Clemens fan?
Brandon Belt: It was hard not to be a Roger Clemens fan, especially being from Texas. I went to San Jacinto College, too, which is where he went after high school. So I was definitely a Roger Clemens fan and a huge Randy Johnson fan -- I looked up to [Clemens]. Those were my main guys. I met Roger one time at Texas -- he came into our locker room and met everyone. It was pretty cool and exciting.
MiLB.com: You had an incredible rookie season at three levels, hitting over .350 with 23 homers and 112 RBIs. Earlier this week, you were ranked No. 26 among the Top 50 Prospects in baseball by MLB.com. Baseball America didn't even have you in the top 20 among Giants prospects entering 2010. How can you sum up your first year?
Brandon Belt: It was real exciting. I've always known I could put the bat on the ball, but I didn't know how quickly I would adjust to the new mechanics the Giants had me doing. I wasn't sure how the season would go, but once we figured it out, I told myself I'd go hit the balls and not worry about mechanics. It helped propel me to the season I had, and, like I said, I'm looking forward to next year and do the same thing, having the same mentality, and hopefully it'll carry me far.
MiLB.com: Giants general manager Brian Sabean said in December that the team wasn't ruling out having you as an everyday first baseman or left fielder in 2011. This is a team that just won the World Series. What's it like to know that opportunity is so close?
Brandon Belt: I can't explain how exciting it is for me. I've dreamed about it since I was a little boy. I feel honored and extremely excited that anyone would say that about me. I need to show what I can do. If it works out for me, I'll be the happiest person in the world, but if it doesn't, I'll do what I do wherever they send me and make it up as soon as possible.
MiLB.com: Sabean, among others, has compared you to Buster Posey, which I'm sure is an honor for any young Minor Leaguer. Do you feel there are similarities?
Brandon Belt: I think the biggest similarity is the approach at the plate. Obviously, you can only hope to have the season he had and be the hitter he is. We have a similar approach, staying in the middle of field, we're not afraid to go the other way. And that's what helped me have the year I had. It's something I wanted to carry into next year.
MiLB.com: I read you got married after playing in the Arizona Fall League. What has this offseason been like? Did you go anywhere cool for the honeymoon?
Brandon Belt: No, actually, we haven't gone anywhere. She wasn't done with school and needed to finish up a semester, and then it was Christmas and then New Year's -- we just haven't had time. And now I'm at a conditioning camp in Arizona. But hopefully we can do something next year. I think she's always been a fan of Jamaica or the Bahamas -- any island, I think. I've never been out of the country before, so it would be pretty cool.
MiLB.com: You played a season on Cape Cod, mostly as a hitter. What was it like living on the Cape, as compared to Texas, and playing in that league?
Brandon Belt: The funny thing is, the Cape reminds me of where I'm from, except it's on the beach. It had that down-home feel, the big trees everywhere. It was a lot of fun. And, really, it got me prepared for professional ball, to see great players day in and day out. It was a lot of fun. There was a difference from Texas with the people, but the terrain reminded me of home.
MiLB.com: Do you have any pregame superstitions or routines, favorite meals or music you have to listen to?
Brandon Belt: I'm probably the least superstitious person you'll ever meet. I just turn my iPod on. Whatever's playing gets me going -- I don't have anything specific. Although I do like to eat nachos every now and again -- I'm a Mexican kinda guy, so anytime I get my hands on nachos or Mexican food, I'm pretty happy.
MiLB.com: Favorite video game?
Brandon Belt: I'd have to say Halo 2, that's really the only video game that I've ever played in my entire life. When I was in junior college, we played that every single day, nonstop, with all the guys on the team. And we had a lot of fun doing that.