Brandon Belt first caught my eye during the 2009 College World Series. But it was largely because he had been one of the University of Texas' best hitters. Despite a 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame, the lefty was more of a gap-to-gap threat than a slugger. And while he was an elite college hitter, Belt wasn't a guy who I had high expectations for in pro ball. But the baseball odds may just be on his side after all.
I got another look at Belt in 2010 minor league spring training. Of the 20 or so Low-A/High-A Giants hitters I saw take batting practice, he was by far the most impressive, driving the ball with authority every time he swung the bat.
Here's what I saw -- apologies for the fence and bad angle:
Replaying what I captured, I see an athletic hitter with little head movement who does a good job staying back with his upper body then explodes his hips through the ball. Belt does all this while maintaining a level swing path and keeping his barrel in the zone for a good amount of time. What's more, he displays an impressive amount of wrist strength, accelerating his hands through the ball as he makes contact.
The swing above tormented California League pitchers (.470 wOBA, 331 PA). But even after his dominant first half in High-A, Belt had plenty of doubters.
(College hitters can put up impressive performances in the low minors before fizzling out against tougher competition.)
Now over the 150 plate appearance mark in Double-A, he continues to rake. It's becoming hard to question him. Belt has posted sensational line-drive rates (23% in A+ and 31% in AA, according to www.firstinning.com). And though he has been striking out more in Double-A than he did in High-A -- and walking much less -- he continues to improve upon his power numbers.
Doug Mapson, the Giants Coordinator of Amateur Scouting, gave a glowing report on Belt to John Klima of Baseball Beginnings. The 29-year scout who is best known for signing an amateur named Greg Maddux called Belt an "emerging young hitter" last summer.
"Here’s a guy who is 6-5, 220, who is a good athlete and a good fielder, has a good arm, he’s just learning to hit and he’s had moderate success," Mapson said. "I think all the upside is in front of this guy."
"We’ll see what kind of offensive player he becomes, but anyone who thinks they can solve hitting in just a few years of amateur ball is sorely mistaken," Mapson continued.
Highly regarded for his ability on the mound in high school and even into his college career, Belt has been a full-time position player for less than three years. It's uncommon -- but far from unheard of -- for college bats taken in the fifth round to find success in the big leagues. But Belt has an intriguing background, impressive tools and now some outstanding results on his side.
At the rate he's going, he could emerge as a productive big leaguer before many prospect fans and writers have time to recognize his abilities. I want to get another look before I jump fully on board, but Belt has at the very least earned the right to be compared to the top hitting prospects in baseball.
Follow Adam on Twitter.