Brandon Belt is projected to bat in the heart of the order for the defending champion Giants this year. He has a chance to contribute significantly to the fake game this season. But can he capitalize on that opportunity?
The old adage "grip it and rip it" applies to Belt's 2014 approach at the plate. He pulled the ball more than ever, but he also drew fewer walks and struck out at a higher rate than normal. In short, Belt was more aggressive at the plate, for whatever reason. This approach was good and bad. Take a look at the chart below:
Obviously Belt is a left-handed hitter and his natural tendency is to pull the ball to right field. But what you see above is extreme. He hit a ton of grounders between first and second base, and failed to consistently hit the ball hard to the opposite field. This is a big issue moving forward. Until he develops the ability to drive the ball the opposite way with some consistency, he'll be a victim of the dreaded shift. As a result, his batting average could be a liability in 2015, as it was last season. That part is bad.
There is some good, however. Belt seemed to undergo a bit of a metamorphosis at the plate, as he hit 12 home runs in only 61 games. He struck out more and walked less, but one can't argue with the useful power totals Belt offered in limited duty last season. His 44% fly ball percentage was a career high, which could point to more home runs in the future. Belt also had the lowest line drive percentage since his rookie year and hit the greatest percentage of ground balls since his rookie year. In short, other than the home runs, the batted ball profile was not extremely encouraging. But we do like the home runs.
I personally believe that Belt is worth the draft day price, regardless of his inefficiencies. He's still only 27 years old (in April) and battled a cumbersome thumb injury last season. He has room to grow, and is being drafted as the 27th first baseman according to consensus ranks at FantasyPros. His average overall ranking is 141, which puts him in the 12th round in a standard 12-team league. That's Steve Pearce territory, folks. After Belt, I don't see much hope for upside at the first base position.
Last year's injuries should ensure a depressed price for Belt on draft day. Perhaps good health and consistent playing time will have a positive affect on the low batting average, too. But even if it doesn't, Belt should be a worthy bench or utility hitter type. Steamer projects a sharper batting eye in 2015, with Belt hitting for a .268 average, 20 home runs, 68 runs, and 73 RBIs. That's over 591 plate appearances. Belt hit 12 home runs in only 235 PAs in 2014. I think the counting stats and the home run total are a bit conservative if Belt can manage a full season. He has a safe enough floor due to decent power potential and his spot in the batting order. And he has the upside that we so often chase in the fake game. It's players like "The Baby Giraffe" that have a chance to outperform their ADP in a big way that can really put your fake team over the top!