Results tagged ‘ Arizona Fall League ’

Prospect Watch: Gary Brown

By: Noah Frank

Oh, the offseason. The lack of daily baseball at Chukchansi Park leaves those of us who work here itching to get a jump on next year. And so, as we did last offseason, we will begin looking at the players making their way through the farm system who seem likely to spend at least part of the 2012 season here in the Central Valley. There will be names you most likely recognize, as well as those you probably do not. We’ll start this year’s crop with one that most Grizzlies and Giants fans know by now: Gary Brown.

Even if he begins the season at Double-A Richmond, which seems likely, given the logjam in center field created by the likes of Justin Christian, Darren Ford, Tyler Graham, the newly-signed Gregor Blanco and possibly Andres Torres, Brown will be a name often on the tips of Grizzlies fans’ tongues next season. That expectation simply comes with the territory when you are a first-round draft pick, as Brown was in 2010. Just ask Madison Bumgarner (’07) and Buster Posey (’08), or the recently departed Zach Wheeler (’09), who now faces the additional pressure with the Mets of being the top prospect traded for a star in Carlos Beltran.

Brown's season continued with the Scottsdale Scorpions this fall. (Chris Lockard/Scout.com)

With Beltran himself quite possibly heading elsewhere this offseason, that will put pressure on Brown to live up to large expectations, and will no doubt lead to fans calling for his promotion to the Majors sooner rather than later.

Brown has certainly done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm surrounding him, but the Giants were careful with the Cal State Fullerton product in his first season. After assigning him straight to High-A San Jose in 2011, Brown was given the entire season to prove what he could accomplish in the California League. All he did was post a line of .336/.407/.519, rapping out 61 extra-base hits, stealing 53 bases, and scoring a mind-numbing 115 runs in just 131 games for the minor Giants.

As we always do at Yard Work, we sought out the expertise of someone who has seen what Brown can do close-up. We spoke briefly about Brown a couple weeks prior with former Grizzlies hitting coach Ken Joyce, who served in the same role for Brown’s Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League, whose regular season ends today. But we went into greater depth with Joe Ritzo, the radio voice of the San Jose Giants, to learn more about what to expect out of the young centerfielder as he moves through the system. Ritzo pulls no punches when describing the role Brown played for San Jose, picked as the High-A Team of the Year, last season.

“He was our MVP,” says Ritzo, and it’s easy to see why. “Everyone knows about his speed and his defensive abilities, which were evident on a daily basis, but he had power too.”

Indeed, Brown swatted 14 home runs on the season. He also absolutely wore out left-handed pitching, batting .459 with a .685 slugging percentage (!) against southpaws last year. Not bad for a leadoff hitter.

Ritzo also compares Brown’s speed to the likes of Grizzlies single-season and franchise stolen base leader Graham, as well as Ford. Those two have been considered the fastest prospects in the system over the last few seasons, so the bar has been set high in the speed department before Brown ever sets his fleet feet in Fresno. But how does he compare to recent top draft picks at other positions?

Brown, like Brett Pill, is a Cal State Fullerton product. (mattbrownphoto.com)

“I’ve been here five or six years and there’s nobody quite like him and how he plays the game,” says Ritzo, which is high praise considering the top prospects that have roamed the diamond at Municipal Stadium the last few years. When I ask Ritzo to compare Brown to the likes of Posey and Bumgarner, he provides some interesting perspective.

“I don’t think his personality was really like any of those players,” he posits. “But what you see is that desire, working so hard before games, the competitive edge that you might see in Buster and Madison that separates them from others. The mental ability that those guys had, Gary has it as well.”

Brown, as mentioned earlier, had the advantage of coming through a high-caliber college baseball program at Cal State Fullerton, the same school that produced Brett Pill. Fresno fans have seen that the experience and maturity gained from those years has paid dividends for Pill, and they seem to be doing the same for Brown, according to Ritzo.

“There’s something extra when you watch him play that you just feel confident that he’s going to have a long and successful Major League career,” says Ritzo. “You can’t predict that kind of Major League success with much certainty very often with guys at the Single-A level.”

The only tick on Brown’s stellar 2011 performance can be seen with a deeper look into his month-by-month numbers. He batted .333 (including a .385 mark in August and a .397 clip in May) or better in every month of the season except one— a glaring .202 performance in June. In cases like these, it’s important to look for answers beyond the box scores, which is where someone like Ritzo comes in handy to provide context for such a slump.

Brown's speed in the outfield, and on the base paths, sets him apart. (Tony Medina)

“We made a lot of roster moves right about that time (early June), including sending Hector Sanchez to Fresno, and Gary was arguably playing better than any of those guys,” explains Ritzo. “He was maybe anticipating that call-up, and when he didn’t get the call it was a little disappointing, so he hit a bit of a lull. It was expressed to him that the organization wants him to stay in San Jose the whole year.”

While the San Francisco brass may have taken the conservative route with Brown in 2011, Ritzo does not expect them to necessarily continue to do moving forward.

“You get the sense that they won’t go that same route this year, especially if he’s starting the season in Richmond,” Ritzo says. “I would think if he starts hot would make it to Fresno before too long. If he has anything close to the kind of year that he had in San Jose, he’ll move quickly through the system.”

Here’s to hoping Fresno fans get a glimpse of what Brown can do sooner rather than later.

Baseball Hipster Heaven: The Arizona Fall League

By: Noah Frank

There is a great joke about hipsters that a friend of mine told me several years ago, back when I lived in the Bay Area.

First, the setup: “How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

The answer? “Some obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it.”

After the punch line, the follow-up: “If you like that joke, I’ve got a copy of it on vinyl.”

The joke is funny because it plays on hipsters’ disregard of, and disgust for, all things mainstream, their self-righteous contempt clutched to as a badge of honor to leverage themselves above the masses as connoisseurs of culture. In the last few seasons, the Arizona Fall League has taken on a life of its own, becoming the underground lounge full of up-and-coming prospects, the den where baseball hipsters, like Keith Law, sit and scout, then take to Twitter to tell the American masses about the players they will be worshiping in a few years.

The parallel between the music hipsters and the baseball hipsters didn’t fully hit me until I saw a tweet from Law pop up in the middle of a playoff game, only to be bewildered to find that it had nothing to do with this game, but rather some prospect in the AFL game he was attending that day. This is not to make any judgments of right or wrong, just to point out that clearly, at this moment, a hipster culture had been created in baseball; one in which the possible, projected future was more important than the actual, present postseason.

Ken Joyce (right) with Brock Bond and River Cats infielder Chris Carter in 2010. (Don Davis)

Needless to say, with this newfound emphasis being put on the yearly exhibition of prospects, the public’s desire for more information has grown accordingly. A strong performance in the AFL doesn’t win you a World Series, but it might put you on the cover of Baseball America, and motivate your team’s fan base to clamor for you to replace an underperforming veteran. Here at Yard Work, we wrote a couple of pieces last year showcasing the various Giants prospects coming up the ranks who we might see in Fresno, including the likes of Brandon Belt and Conor Gillaspie. We also had several offseason conversations with Jonathan Mayo— the MLB.com writer assigned to cover the minor leagues and the draft— to gain a better perspective on these prospects and on how well we could project their stellar performances in the Fall League towards future success.

This year I found, to my delight, that 2010 Grizzlies hitting coach Ken Joyce was serving as the hitting coach for the Scottsdale Scorpions, the AFL squad for which the Giants prospects play. Recent top draft picks Gary Brown and Joe Panik are joined by the likes of 2011 Grizzly and Giant Brandon Crawford on that Scottsdale squad. And because of the collective structure of the AFL, in which each team is comprised of prospects from five different organizations, they all wear the same uniform as uber prospects Bryce Harper (Nationals) and Mike Trout (Angels). I caught up with Joyce the other day to get his thoughts on all of the above.

Yard Work: Brandon Crawford is an interesting case as a guy with Major League time playing in the AFL. Is this the first time he’s played for you, and what have you been working on so far?

Ken Joyce: I’ve actually seen him before, since I had him in the instructional league last year. The biggest thing is we’ve simplified everything. A couple years ago in Double-A he was swinging the bat very well, but he got a little too technical, was trying to do too much. So we just focused on getting him in a good rhythm. He has been on fire, swinging very well against both righties and lefties. Plus, he’s kind of taken on a leadership role for these younger guys.

Brandon Crawford is known for his glove, but his bat has heated up in the AFL. (Don Davis)

YW: You also are getting an up close look at Joe Panik and Gary Brown. What are your first impressions of them?

KJ: I’m very impressed with Panik. He’s a very mature young man, a little ahead of his time. Just talking to some people in the [Giants] organization, he reminds a lot of people of [Buster] Posey in his demeanor. Now it’s just a matter of adjusting to each level as he moves along. The fact that he’s [in the AFL] shows that they think very highly of him. He hit his first home run for us today. Overall his performance hasn’t shown up in the numbers, but he’s exhausted. He’s been going pretty much for a full year straight, so it’s probably the most baseball he’s ever played in his life.

As for Gary Brown, I saw him a bit in Spring Training, but this is my first time really working with him. I think he’s fatigued a bit, too, it’s been a long year. The key for him is not getting caught up in the results. Two years ago Posey hit about .220 in this league and was in the Majors the next year. In my opinion, that is actually good for you— we’d rather have you fail here than in the big leagues. Browny’s got a very good attitude about it, he’s just been pressing a little bit mentally. But defensively, he’s as good as anybody here.

YW: What have you seen out of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, arguably the top two prospects in the game?

KJ: They are both very talented individuals, I mean their raw talent is off the charts. I think they’re dealing with some of the same issues as Browny, that it’s just been a long year for them. They’ve been better lately, though.

YW: Does it take some of the pressure off of the Giants prospects to know that guys like Harper and Trout are more in the spotlight?

KJ: It takes a little bit of pressure off our guys, but at the same time, it means more people are coming to see them play every day.

YW: Have any other guys stood out to you that maybe the general baseball public is unaware of at this point? Is there anyone to keep an eye on the next couple of years?

KJ: I’ve been real impressed with two of our catchers. Derek Norris (Nationals) has been swinging the bat real well. We saw him in Harrisburg this year where he put up some power numbers in Double-A, but the average was low. He’s made some good adjustments since then. Dan Butler (Red Sox) has also been impressive.

YW: Any other Giants prospects to look out for?

KJ: The pitchers have done a good job, Austin Fleet especially. He’s got two wins, and has given up only one run so far. Stephen Harrold has closed out a couple games for us, too. The young kids have very good arms and have done a nice job, even getting themselves out of pressure situations.

YW: Do you have other impressions from the AFL to share with the folks back at home?

KJ: It’s just a great opportunity for these guys to develop. After all, if you can’t play in front of the rovers, the farm directors, the general managers, how are you going to play in front of 40-50,000 people? As for me, I’m loving it down here. It’s been good times, working with a good staff. It’s been good to see the rovers that we see throughout the year come through.

Kindling The Hot Stove

By: Cody Turner

For many baseball fans, the excitement of the baseball
season doesn’t end after the World Series; it begins again. Following the
anticipation of the postseason awards, fans eagerly await the fate of some of
the key players from their organization, as well as what newcomers might become
significant contributors next spring. 

At the minor league level, while many spectators suspect a
vacant ghost town for a stadium, front office staffs across the country have
begun the diligent preparation for the six-month marathon of a season that lies
ahead. Similarly to fans, many members of the Minor League Baseball family
enthusiastically await offseason transactions, and how those moves affect which
exciting young talents they’ll get to feature come Opening Day.

Rohly.jpg

The most examined teams during the winter are often those
coming off postseason runs. The expectations of a defending champ are particularly
high, and the value of available top performers from such an organization is
increased. It’s always interesting to see how the chemistry of a championship
caliber team may be altered, especially a clubhouse that meshed as well as the
2010 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.

In their first month since their World Series victory, a lot
has happened in the world of baseball. The activities thus far have had an
affect on multiple levels. What most don’t realize is how the re-signing of a
free agent, or loss of another, can change not just the outlook for a league or
a division, but also an entire organization from the top down.  While the elite of baseball’s top
prospects participated in the Arizona Fall League and the Giants focused on
some of their higher priority free agents in November, the fortune of the
Fresno Grizzlies’ 2011 Opening Day roster awaits.

Each time the Scottsdale Scorpions took the field in
Arizona, and every negotiation made in San Francisco shifted which developing
players Fresno fans were likely to see come April. With the young talents of
Brandon Belt, Charlie Culberson, and Conor Gillaspie making their cases for a
shot at the next level with an exceptional display of development in the AFL,
the eventual home of Giants free agents will play a crucial part where these
prospects land.  

By the end of Belt’s steady rise through the system in 2010–
culminating in the Scorpions’ AFL Championship– talks of the lefty starting the
upcoming season in San Francisco
began to surface. The small glimpse of the heaving-hitting
first baseman in Downtown Fresno at the tail end of last season left fans eager
to see the rising star lead the Grizzlies into 2011. Little did we know that
despite a championship lineup in San Francisco, Belt might end up with the
Giants without stepping foot in Chukchansi Park again.

huff.jpg

The immediate future of the Giants’ fifth-round selection of
the 2009 First-Year Player Draft was highly dependent on whether San Francisco
would sign Free Agent first baseman Aubrey Huff. Even after the news of the deal
that would keep Huff in orange and black
for two more seasons, the possibility
of Belt being a Giant this spring was not necessarily diminished.

Huff’s experience in the outfield, his willingness to do
whatever it takes
to help the team win, and his desire to be an everyday player
didn’t count out the possibility of Brandon Belt starting the 2011 season in a
Giants uniform. The Huff signing inched Belt closer to an assignment to Fresno,
but it wasn’t until San Francisco’s latest signing of Pat Burrell that made Belt’s
immediate future in a Grizzlies uniform seem more probable than that in a Giants
one. Nevertheless, the winter has just begun. How the next four months play out
will determine where we see Belt come Opening Day.

Similarly to the starting first base job, the rest of the
Giants infield is in question for the spring as well. The immediate decision-making
rested on the free agent status of World Series hero Juan Uribe. With the
sure-handed infielder headed to Southern California after signing with the
division-rival Dodgers
(and the Giants’ concern with the fitness of Pablo
Sandoval
), the opportunity for a young upstart from the minor league system
making an impact appeared as conceivable as ever.

Bumgarner1.jpg

Whether the Giants looked to a more established player like
Emmanuel Burriss or Ryan Rohlinger to step up, or the fresher faces of a
Gillaspie, Culberson or a lesser-known Brandon Crawford to emerge, infield
opportunities were seemingly wide open. However, shortly after Uribe’s
departure, the Giants acquired veteran shortstop Miguel Tejada, who helped
boost San Diego in the divisional race last year.

While the return of Freddy Sanchez and Mark DeRosa to the
Giants infield, along with the attainment of Tejada and re-signing of backup
infielder Mike Fontenot will help fill some vacancies with some veteran
assurance, there are still some questions to be answered this winter. With the uncertainty of Sandoval and the increased progress and
productivity of Culberson and Gillaspie, each offseason move dramatically
impacts what baseball fans in the Central Valley can expect to see in Fresno.

The outlook for Triple-A baseball in Fresno seems bright
with the likelihood of some impressive young talent making their way though at
some point in 2011. As always though, the length at which they stay may vary.
With the recent immediate success of Rookie of the Year Buster Posey and lefty
hurler Madison Bumgarner, the urgency to see a Brandon Belt as a Giant sooner
rather than later will be astronomical.

(Ryan Rohlinger and Madison Bumgarner Photos: Don Davis; Aubrey Huff Photo: AP)

Prospect Watch: Joe Paterson

By: Noah Frank

Most of our
Prospect Watch pieces focus on a player who has spent little or no time in
Fresno to this point in his career. But it seems a safe bet that 24-year-old
Joe Paterson will be a returning face to the Central Valley in 2011. Besides,
he’s such a nice guy that we just couldn’t help ourselves.

Paterson
spent the 2010 season spent shuttling back and forth between Fresno and San
Jose
, posting solid numbers in the former and excellent ones in the latter.
Largely used as a situational southpaw or LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), he
dominated lefty swingers, fanning 36 of the 112 that faced him. He also held
left-handers to a .216 batting average between the two levels. Overall he
finished 5-3 with three saves, a 3.03 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 65.1 innings
pitched, earning a trip to the Arizona Fall League.

Since
arriving in Scottsdale, the congenial Oregonian made it look more like his
Single-A stomping grounds, holding opponents scoreless in nine of his 10
appearances. He struck out 

at least one batter in every outing, compiling 17
against just four walks in 11.0 innings pitched. He continues to dominate
lefties, allowing just two hits while striking out 11 of the 21 left-handed
batters he faced.

Perhaps the
most encouraging number in that bunch– small sample size aside– is that he had
just a single walk through his first nine appearances. If there was a knock on
Paterson in the times he struggled with Fresno this past season, it was that he
issued too many free passes and dug himself into his own holes. He walked 24 in
54.1 innings with the Grizzlies (4.0 BB/9.0 IP) including five multi-walk
outings in his first 20 appearances. But he has fanned 50 while walking just 12
since then, in 40.1 innings between Fresno and Scottsdale.

Much like
fellow bullpen lefty Geno Espineli, Paterson steps well across his body with
his right plant foot as he delivers the ball, his throwing arm sweeping at a
flat angle out towards first base. This means he actually is releasing the ball
behind a left-handed hitter as he digs into the batter’s box. That allows
Paterson to keep the hitter off-balance and set them up, bailing out on inside
fastballs, then chasing frisbee sliders that float off the plate outside. All
of that has led to a career record of 20-12 with a 2.63 ERA (67 ER/229.0 IP)
and a 9.8 K/9.0 IP rate.

It has been
said that if you can throw left-handed and have a pulse that there is a place
for you in baseball. Joe Paterson can do much more than just that, and is well
on his way to a spot in the Giants bullpen in the next couple of years. More
than likely, though, JoePa (as his teammates affectionately refer to him) will
begin the 2011 campaign with fellow Oregon State alum, College World Series Champion,
and future subject of Prospect Watch, Tyler Graham, right here in Fresno.

(Photo Credit: Don Davis)

Legends Of The Fall

By: Noah Frank

The Arizona Fall League will wrap up this Saturday, as the Scottsdale Scorpions take on the Peoria Javelinas for the league title at 12pm PST on MLB Network. Most of the national media attention paid to the Scorpions when the roster was announced was to the Washington Nationals‘ uber-prospect, Bryce Harper. Now, if you know anything about the Giants prospects participating in the AFL, you may be asking yourself “Isn’t Scottsdale the Giants’ team?” The answer to that is simple: Yes, and no.

See, this is how the AFL works. The prospects from the 30 Major League teams are divided up into six, five-team squads. The Giants are grouped with the Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and, as mentioned before, the Nationals. San Francisco has a total of seven prospects on the roster, none of them with the same kind of branding as baseball’s answer to LeBron James. But while Harper has certainly helped, living up to the hype so far (in a very small sample size), it has been the trio of Giants hitters that have keyed Scottsdale’s run to the championship game.

belt.jpg

Past features of our Prospect Watch series Charlie Culberson and Brandon Belt share the league lead in doubles (11) and triples (5), respectively, earning them some national attention. Meanwhile, Conor Gillaspie has had his best showing as a professional to date, batting over .300 while sharing the league lead in home runs (5). Belt’s line, though, has been the most eye-catching so far at .372/.427/.616 (AVG, OBP, SLG), as he tries to put a cherry on top of his magnificent 2010 campaign with another championship.

The Giants have stocked the team with a few arms as well, lending 2009 Grizzly Dan Runzler and 2010 Grizzly Joe Paterson as well as lower level prospects Jason Stoffel and Ryan Verdugo (interestingly, all but Stoffel are southpaws). This is just the beginning of a whole new campaign for Runzler who, after making the Majors in ’09, was injured this season and may now being groomed for a move into the starting rotation. With the starting five in San Francisco as stable as any in the Majors, it would not be a surprise to see Runzler begin 2011 back in Fresno as he adjusts to his new role. Paterson is likely to return as well, and Grizzlies fans may get a look at Verdugo, who struck out 94 batters in just 62.2 innings while going 8-1 with a 1.87 ERA this season between Augusta and San Jose.

While the AFL is a great way for Giants fans to get a sneak preview of the players that will end up in San Francisco in a couple years, it’s an even better way to see those who will be in Fresno next year. So check out the game on MLB Network at noon on Saturday. It’s your last chance to see some of this top talent until Grizzlies Opening Day on Thursday, April 7th, 2011.

(Photo of Brandon Belt courtesy of Joe Pun/AZGiants.com)

Prospect Watch: Charlie Culberson

By: Noah Frank

Every year,
as the bulk of the baseball watching populous turns its collective attention to
the playoffs– culminating in the Fall Classic– a handful of experts pack their
bags and head to Arizona. No, they are not flying south for the winter, though
the mild temperatures are certainly the reason that their destination is
situated where it is. These scouts and writers are headed to the Arizona Fall League, a post-season
prospect showcase of the best the minors has to offer. At first glance, this
was not somewhere one would expect to find Charlie
Culberson
.

culberson.jpg

Not only was
Culberson not among the top 30 prospects in the Giants’ system entering 2010,
according to Baseball America, he wasn’t even listed on the organizational
depth chart at second base, making his only appearance in their prospect
handbook as the fourth-string third baseman.

It’s funny
how quickly a professional baseball player can put his name on the map these
days. Let’s just say that whole anonymity thing isn’t going to last into next
year’s edition.

A career
.249 hitter with just a .312 on-base percentage through his first three
professional seasons, Culberson– still just 21– spent the year at High-A San Jose. After a lackluster April that
saw him hit just .212, he stormed out to bat .326 in May and a cool .400 in the
month of June. His overall average reached a season-high of .329 in late June,
but would tumble downwards in the second half, coinciding with the promotion of
top prospect and fellow right-side infielder Brandon Belt to Double-A Richmond.

Culberson
still finished the year at .290/.340/.457 with 28 doubles and 16 home runs, his
best season yet as a professional. The Giants liked what they saw enough to
give him a shot in the AFL, a talent-rich prospect zoo where he would be thoroughly
tested.

Even with
his improvements this year, nobody could have expected what Culberson
delivered. He hit safely in his first dozen games, batting .472 (25-for-53)
with eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 15 runs scored and nine RBI. He
racked up eight multi-hit games over that stretch, including four of three or
more hits. As of November 5th he had settled down to a .417 average,
but still leads the league in hits (30), doubles (10), and extra-base hits
(14), while ranking second in slugging percentage (.694) and total bases (50).
Never mind that he’s doing all of this against the best competition available.

Culberson
may still have Brock Bond above him
on the organizational depth chart at second base, but he has likely passed Nick Noonan and may well see some time
in Fresno this year. A sandwich pick out of high school back in 2007, it has
taken Culberson a little while to achieve his potential. But with Belt flanking
him at first base, the Giants have a lot to be excited about in the future of
the right side of the infield.

(Photo Credit: Mills Fitzner)

Prospect Watch: Brandon Belt


Ed. Note: This will be the first of (hopefully) many looks into possible members of the 2011 Grizzlies squad. Even with the graduation of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, there is still plenty of talent left in the Giants system. The man in the early running for top talent heading into next year? Brandon Belt.

You will
have to forgive him, but this is all a bit new to Brandon Belt. While the
22-year-old has always been a solid player with a good swing, he is suddenly
being touted as the next great Giants prospect, flying up the ranks of the
minor leagues. In just his first professional season, he arrived in Fresno and was
placed in the middle of the lineup of a team fighting for a postseason spot.
While that might be overwhelming for some players just three years removed from
high school, the even-keeled Belt seems up to the challenge.

brandon.jpg

In his
second at-bat in a Grizzlies uniform, against division-rival Sacramento, on the
road, Belt torched a searing line drive to one of the deepest parts of the park
for a solo home run. He would go on to walk three times in the game as well,
scoring three of Fresno’s five total runs.

Just how
Brandon Belt found himself at Raley Field last week is something of a surprise.
The former Texas Longhorn put up solid, if unspectacular, numbers in his two
seasons of Division I ball after transferring from San Jacinto College in
Houston. He had decided not to sign after being selected by the Boston Red Sox out
of high school in the 11th round in 2006, and again passed on an 11th
round selection– this time by Atlanta– in 2007. After his two years at Texas,
the Giants made him a fifth-round selection last year.

Belt did not
log any game time in 2009 after signing, but he did go to minor league
instructional camp, where Giants coaches made a couple of adjustments to his
swing, raising his hands and opening his stance a bit.

“It seems
minor, but it takes time to adjust,” he says of the mechanical changes. “I
worked on it all off-season, so I felt like I was ready once this year started.”

That
certainly showed in his numbers. After batting .383 with a .492 on-base
percentage, 28 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 62 RBI in just 77 games
with High-A San Jose, Belt moved up to the pitcher-friendly Eastern League.
There, with Double-A Richmond, he posted a .337 average with 11 doubles, six
triples, nine homers and 40 RBI in just 46 games. That gave him 68 extra-base
hits between the two levels, over which he also stole 20 bases. Belt’s home run
in his first game with Fresno made him just the second player in the minor
leagues this year with 20 doubles, steals and home runs.

Not bad for
a rookie. But perhaps the most impressive part of Belt’s success has been his
ability to hold up all summer. He acknowledges that the hardest part of
adjusting to professional ball has been the length of the season, which
includes more than twice as many games as a college schedule.

“Mentally it
took a while to get prepared for,” he explains. “And now the physical fatigue
starts to set in at the end of the season.”

Although
that season will not include a Major League call-up just yet, it will last a
little longer for Belt, who is due to report to the prospect showcase known as
the Arizona Fall League in a few weeks. With what he’s accomplished this year,
his 2011 season will be looked at under a magnifying glass, by everyone from the
front office in San Francisco to the television analysts at ESPN and writers at
Baseball America. But Belt isn’t
about to put too much pressure on himself.

“I’m not
saying I won’t have goals,” he explains. “I just understand how the game is,
that good and bad things happen. I’m just trying to be as consistently good as
I can be throughout the season.”

The way
things have gone, his next season may well start right here in Fresno.

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