About 650 days ago, Brandon Belt was hitting .323 with eight home runs for the Texas Longhorns. Now he’s starting at first base for the defending World Champions. When he was drafted, Belt was just another name rattled off on the second day -- a 5th-round pick who might show up in the majors for the Giants one day, like Doug Mirabelli, Bobby Howry, or Ryan Vogelsong did. Belt was a mid-round draft prospect as a hitter, and maybe the Giants were more interested in a 6’-5" lefty with pitching experience at that point in the draft.
It probably wasn’t going to make a difference either way. Fifth-round picks are, like most every draftee after the first half of the first round, individual sperm on their way to the egg of a major league lineup. Good luck, and we won’t leave the light on for you.
When the Giants went through an organizational drought that spanned a couple of decades -- between Matt Williams and Pablo Sandoval, the homegrown hitters of note were Bill Mueller and Marvin Benard -- the truly amazing part is that the team never just ran into a prospect out of dumb luck. They weren’t the team to draft a franchise cornerstone in the 12th round, or watch some unknown from Fricassee State shoot up through the minor leagues. Every other team had a story like that from the past twenty years. The Giants didn’t.
Then, all the way from A-ball, came a rotund third baseman who was a catcher who used to be a first baseman after he was initially a third baseman. Sandoval was 21, and he hit .345 in 41 games. Finally, a hitter from within the organization! That should last us for another couple of decades, we thought. But just a couple of years later, the Giants were blessed with a top prospect who actually hit like he was supposed to. Better, even. After decades of Murrays, Hyzdus, and Torcatos, that Buster Posey kid had a chance to be okay.
Now Brandon Belt has a pretty good chance to be another exciting homegrown hitter, the third produced in past four seasons. Do you know how insane it would be for the Giants to continue being some sort of newfangled hitting factory? This is the organization that was so awful at developing hitters, they forced prospect-starved bloggers to go goofy when Kevin Frandsen had a three-hit debut. After Will Clark was drafted in 1985, the best first baseman developed by the Giants over the next 25 years was -- ready for this? -- Travis Ishikawa. A quarter of a century, and that was the best first baseman the organization could develop after Will Clark. They tried Lance Niekros and Desi Wilsons, J.R. Phillipses and Damon Minors. It was Ishikawa who gave the Giants something that resembled anything, and that something, while not nothing, wasn’t much.
So Brandon Belt represents something more than a top prospect winning a job out of spring training. He’s offering us penicillin where the previous guys prescribed leeches. He’s a symbol of how far the Giants have come. A World Series title and an honest-to-goodness first baseman to carry on the legacy of Willie McCovey and Will Clark in the same year? Well, kiss my grits.
Of course, he actually has to do something before we can get too excited. And he still could fall into that Ortmeier-like void like all the rest of them. But this one seems different. I know...I know we’ve been hurt so many times before, but this one seems different. Here’s hoping...