Impact: Huff Won’t Block Belt

The San Francisco Giants have re-signed one of the biggest pieces to their 2010 offense. Last season, Aubrey Huff was a bargain, producing a .290/.385/.506 line with 26 home runs, 100 runs scored and 86 RBI while costing only $3M. He’ll be making significantly more for the next two seasons.
Regardless of whether one thinks the Giants over-payed Huff at two-years and $22M — and, yes, I do think they over-payed for his age 34 and 35 seasons — they did lock up a veteran first baseman just in case top prospect Brandon Belt needs more time at Triple-A. When he is ready, however, Huff’s roster spot won’t block Belt from his shot at the big leagues.

Coming off of the best performances in all of the minors last season, Brandon Belt simply continued mashing in the Arizona Fall League. Mechanical changes in his swing worked wonders in 2010, prompting scouts to rave about his ability to drive the ball with plus-power to all fields. Belt hit a combined .352/.455/.620 across three levels from High-A to Triple-A with 23 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Reports have his defense at first base rated as a plus skill. At age 23 in 2011, Belt is very close to being major league ready, with some people wondering if he could have broken camp with the Giants this coming spring. The re-signing of Huff would seem to push those expectations back a bit and there was a good chance that management wanted to give Belt more at-bats at Triple-A before rushing him to the big-leagues — they did so with Buster Posey in 2010. As was the case with Posey, when Belt is ready for a big league job, the Giants will find a way to get him in the lineup.

San Francisco first baseman Aubrey Huff singles in the first inning and scored moments later on a home run by Buster Posey for the winning runs over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park in San Diego September 12. 2010. The Giants won 6-1. UPI/Roger Williams Photo via Newscom
One of the keys to the two-year deal signed by Huff is the fact that the Giants see him as a versatile player that can play first base as well as both corner outfield spots. Huff played 46 games in left field and 34 games in right field for the Giants in 2010. The Giants have one year left on the contract of Mark De Rosa, who signed to play left-field, but he could also fill a role as utility man after coming off of an injury shorted, unproductive 2010 season. Cody Ross is arbitration eligible, but even if he is back with the Giants in 2011, it is highly unlikely that he performs at the level he did in the 2010 playoffs. Ross is a career .265/.323/.466 hitter, which is fine, but nothing that will hold off a better option. When Belt is ready, Huff can move to the outfield.

Belt only had 262 plate appearances above High-A last season, so simply assuming that he is big league ready may be expecting a bit too much. Should he start the season in Triple-A and put up stellar numbers once again, it may only take 200 or so plate appearances before he starts to get serious call-up consideration.

The bottom line is that the Giants’ front office is well aware of how close Brandon Belt is to the big leagues. The signing of Aubrey Huff won’t change that, but perhaps it gives them a reason/comfort to start Belt at Triple-A for more seasoning. Fantasy wise, Belt could make an impact in all formats once he arrives on the big league scene, but as always we need to limit expectations. Not every top prospect comes out of the gates like Buster Posey did in 2010.