Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Latest Can't-Miss Kid

The San Francisco Giants have done it again. Another year, another baby-faced phenom.

This time, it's 22-year-old first baseman Brandon Belt. Giants management waited until after the final exhibition game to make the announcement: Belt is the team's starting first baseman, shoving incumbent Aubrey Huff to right field.

It's a bittersweet moment: the annointing of Belt ends the Giants career of Travis Ishikawa, a Giants draftee whose defensive skills and pinch-hitting prowess made him a valuable piece of the World Championship team. But the truth is harsh: Belt appears to be Ishikawa's defensive equal, and the offensive upside is obvious. Ishikawa is a class act, and I hope the closing of this door opens another one for him.

In the glow of the World Series win and a spring that saw the Giants post the best exhibition record in baseball, it's easy to forget the harsh reality of the sport: moves don't always work out. Belt has exactly one year of professional baseball under his, uh, belt. His meteoric climb through three minor-league levels means exactly nothing to Ubaldo Jimenez, Clayton Kershaw, Mat Latos, and the other big-leaguers who'll be staring at him from 60 feet away.

The Giants have made the easy decision in giving Belt the first-base job. The harder decisions could come in a few weeks. What do they do if he struggles at the plate? How about when Cody Ross comes off the DL and is ready to return to the right-field job now slotted for Huff? Do the Giants bench Belt or ship him back to Triple-A Fresno?

For now, those are just nagging little thoughts. The thrill of a new season drowns them out. Belt becomes the latest "Kid" to join a Giants team already full of 20-something stars: Posey, Lincecum, Cain, J. Sanchez, Sandoval, Wilson. Remember: each and every one of these players was drafted and groomed by the Giants organization. Belt is in damned good company.

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