Giants' Belt Has Thrived Since Ditching College Swing

Brandon Belt has shown that he doesn't have problems adapting.

For instance, the one-time elite prep pitching prospect went on to become a fixture in Texas' lineup as a first baseman. He led the Longhorns in most offensive categories last year, but he still was willing to dramatically rework his stance after signing with the Giants as a fifth-round pick.

That flexibility has paid off. The 22-year-old Belt is hitting .407/.514/.628 for high Class A San Jose—a pretty aggressive first assignment for a new pro—in what ranks as one of the most surprising debuts of the 2010 season.

"Right now he's surpassed what we expected," San Jose manager Brian Harper said. "He's stays through the middle real well. He hasn't struck out hardly at all and he's drawn walks."

Coming out of a Lufkin, Texas, high school in 2006, Belt was considered one of the top prep pitching prospects in the country. With an 88-93 mph fastball from the left side and a solid feel for pitching, his future seemed to be on the mound. He ranked 67th on our pre-draft Top 200.

But a drop in his velocity in the weeks leading up to the draft led him to fall to the 11th round, where the Red Sox selected but did not sign him. So Belt headed to San Jacinto (Texas) JC.

What was expected to be a one-year detour from pro ball turned into a three-year trip through college ball. Belt's velocity never got back to the low 90s at San Jacinto, but he did hit .421 with nine home runs that season, which began to signal that his future may be in the batter's box.

Brandon Belt's old stance (Photo by Andrew Woolley)
Moving on to Texas, Belt continued to work out of the bullpen at times as a sophomore, but his biggest contribution for Texas came at first base. As a junior in 2009, Belt walked away from the pitcher's mound for good. He led Texas in average, slugging and on-base percentage with a .323/.425/.523 season.

Belt may no longer pitch, but he said he believes his time as a pitcher has helped him as a hitter. If he can get ahead early in the count, he tries to get in the pitcher's head to figure out what's coming next.

"Sometimes I'm a pretty good guesser," Belt said. "That's when the pitching background helps."

But when pro scouts saw Belt's batting stance, they cringed.

Brandon Belt's new stance (Photo by David Schofield)
A lefthanded batter, Belt stood in the box with an extremely closed stance. It worked for him at Texas, but it also ensured that he was swinging almost entirely with his arms and was best at serving balls to the opposite field. It was hard to knock the results. In addition to his success at Texas, Belt also led Harwich with five home runs during the 2008 Cape Cod League season. But he slipped in the draft because teams were worried his approach wouldn't translate to pro ball.

Belt's pro career got off to a slow start. He and the Giants quickly reached an agreement, but since Belt was signing for an above-slot $200,000, MLB wouldn't approve the contract until just before the Aug. 17 signing deadline. A minor back injury then sidelined Belt until the end of the minor league season.

He may not have gotten into an official game last year, but he didn't waste his time. To help ensure the back problems didn't come back, he worked on strengthening his core. And when he finally got onto the field for instructional league, he and the Giants quickly went to work to change his stance.

Belt's college stance could be best described as combining the best and worst attributes of an aluminum-bat swing. It was effective with a metal bat, where jam jobs turn into opposite-field singles, and the bat provides a little extra boost to hitter's power. It wouldn't work nearly as well with a wood bat, where hitters have to use their hands to generate load, and they have to generate a lot of their power from the weight transfer in the lower half.

So the Giants opened up Belt's stance and got him to raise his hands. The changes give him a better look at the ball, but more importantly, they have allowed him to get his lower body into his swing. With improved weight transfer and a better hand position, Belt now has a better load and more power.

"They opened me up. They have me looking at the ball from a different angle," Belt said. "It was a difficult transition for a little bit, but I now feel like my eyes are a lot better and my weight transition is better, too. I can get that bat around and drive that ball into the gap."

The new stance hasn't turned Belt into a traditional slugger, he's still a high-average hitter with gap power, but it should help to alleviate some of the concerns about whether Belt will have the power expected out of a first baseman.

"There are really two types of power," Harper said. "One is strictly home-run power. One is extra-base power. Brandon is definitely a hitter with extra-base power. He could be a guy who hits 40 doubles and 15-20 home runs."

As you can tell from that projection, Belt doesn't appear destined to be a Ryan Howard-type slugger. But he hits for average, should hit plenty of doubles and is an aggressive baserunner with average speed. But that doesn't mention his best attribute, according to Harper.

"He's very good defensively," Harper said. "He has above average range at first base, and he has a very good arm. Obviously you hate to put this comparison on anyone, but he's like a big version of J.T. Snow."