Results tagged ‘ Brandon Belt ’

Giants’ No. 2 hitters once gave opponents the Willies

Friday, March 14

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The presence of a No. 2 hitter who doesn’t fit that profile tends to generate concern among Giants fans. If you’re among these folks, I’m not here to belittle you; I’ll try to convince you not to worry when somebody like Brandon Belt or Michael Morse occupies the second position in the batting order.

Granted, the Giants hitter who best suits that role, Marco Scutaro, could be sidelined with back pain when the regular season begins. But manager Bruce Bochy most likely would fill the second spot with Brandon Crawford or whoever replaces Scutaro at second base.

And what if Bochy decides to hit Belt second? It’s not such an awful choice, due to Belt’s ability to make contact and spray hits to all fields. But conventional wisdom dictates that Belt probably will settle somewhere in the middle of the order.

Whatever happens, don’t feel as if the world has spun off its axis. Back, back, back when ballplayers wore flannel uniforms and road trips routinely lasted two weeks or more, two of history’s most formidable hitters occasionally batted second for the Giants.

That’s right. Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.

Mays hit second in the lineup 120 times in his career, including 102 games as a San Francisco Giant. McCovey occupied the No. 2 spot in 74 starts.

But what relevance do the batting orders of (for example) the 1964 Giants, who used Mays and McCovey in the second spot 14 and nine times, respectively, have for the 2014 Giants? Well, consider this: If this year’s lineup proves to be as deep as the Giants hope, elevating a big bat into the second slot might make sense if Belt, Morse, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval are all hitting proficiently (Bochy pointedly said the other day that Morse will NOT bat second).

That’s apparently why Mays and McCovey hit second as often as they did. The managers of the Giants in that era, Bill Rigney and Alvin Dark, faced the enviable task of trying to figure out daily how best to deploy Mays, McCovey and Orlando Cepeda — who, by the way, never hit second in any of the 2,028 games he started.

Rigney liked hitting Mays second so much that he dropped The Peerless One into that spot 45 times in 1959. Dark saw fit to write Mays’ name second in the lineup on quite a few occasions during the Hall of Famer’s third- and fourth-most-prolific home run seasons: 17 times in 1962 (49 homers) and 14 times in the aforementioned ’64 campaign (47 homers). McCovey hit second 15 times in 1963, when he and Hank Aaron shared the National League lead in homers with 44 apiece. In 1966, his second of six consecutive seasons with more than 30 homers, McCovey started in the No. 2 spot 16 times.

Productivity wasn’t an issue for either man. In 559 career plate appearances as the second hitter, Mays batted .300 with 34 homers and 85 RBIs. Kind of like an average season for him during his Say Hey-day. McCovey batted just .259 in 343 plate appearances in the second slot but mashed 23 homers.<p/>

Certainly it’s essential for Bochy to arrange his hitters in a sequence that enables them to complement each other best. But history suggests that if Willie Mays or Willie McCovey proved suitable here and there for the second spot, Bochy has room for creativity.

Chris Haft

Notion of Sandoval trade not far-fetched

Monday, Oct. 21

SAN FRANCISCO — Speculation regarding a possible trade involving Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval completely makes sense.

It’s logical to anticipate that Sandoval will thrive in 2014, the final year of his three-year, $17.15 million contract, to propel himself boldly into free agency. Such a projection also would be flimsy given Sandoval’s performance, which has fluctuated along with his weight. Anyone expecting the switch-hitter to use last October’s World Series Most Valuable Player distinction to launch him closer to stardom must be disappointed. Sandoval, 27, hit .278 this year, sixth among Giants with at least 300 plate appearances. He accumulated 14 home runs, fourth on the team, and 79 RBIs, his third-best career total.

This was Sandoval’s fifth full Major League season. He has gone on the disabled list in each of the last three years without establishing consistency at the plate, though he has become a competent defender. If one is to assume anything about Sandoval’s upcoming season, it’s that he’ll somehow disappoint more than deliver. Hence the buzz, started recently by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, that the Giants might consider proposals featuring Sandoval. Club management is gradually losing patience with him, as general manager Brian Sabean indicated in his season-ending summary (“The sky’s still the limit. We’re still waiting for that”).

At the same time, Sandoval retains enough cachet to attract multiple suitors. The Giants might be able to include him in a package that would fetch them a serviceable starting pitcher. Any club hoping to bolster its offense would be intrigued by Sandoval, who retains 30-homer, 100-RBI talent. So why don’t the Giants keep him? Again, his production has teased the Giants more than it has satisfied them. Even if he puts together a solid season next year, whoever’s employing him must deal with his impending free agency. If the Giants were to swap Sandoval, they could lean safely on the “better to trade a player a year too early” maxim.

Without Sandoval, the Giants could move Marco Scutaro from second base to third. Scutaro’s unremarkable range wouldn’t be as much of a liability at third, where he’d be asked to cover less ground due to the nature of the position and shortstop Brandon Crawford’s excellence. Filling the vacancy at either second or third could be a challenge, however. The free-agent market at those positions basically consists of Robinson Cano (who probably would ask for the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, with Alcatraz thrown in) and a bunch of one-year stopgaps in their mid-30s. Perhaps the Giants could ask for a second baseman in any trade involving Sandoval.

Or perhaps the Giants won’t trade Sandoval at all, which many Giants fans likely would prefer. He’ll forever remain popular at AT&T Park, despite — or even because of — his foibles. He’s the Kung Fu Panda; so what if he struggles with his weight? Who doesn’t? Moreover, the promise he flashes when his line drives find gaps or fly over the fence and frustrate Justin Verlander remains tantalizing. So does the potential of an effective Sandoval forming a solid middle of the order with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Brandon Belt.

Sandoval will give the Giants much to ponder when they confront the decision to trade or re-sign him. Whether they endure that headache sooner or later remains to be seen.

Chris Haft

Video helps Pence, Belt — can you dig it?

Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013

LOS ANGELES — You can call it creative visualization or positive reinforcement. Hunter Pence called it a “dig-me session.”

Regardless of the term, Pence’s method of studying videos of successful at-bats — particularly those that resulted in home runs — likely helped him and Brandon Belt deliver their titanic performances Saturday in the Giants’ 19-3 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pence said that he reviewed footage of himself hitting home runs before he crushed his 476-foot drive at Colorado on Aug. 27. Before that date, he had homered exactly once since July 14. Obviously, Pence was unhappy about the drought. So he reminded himself, visually, how he looked as a power hitter. The power of the mind apparently unleashed the power of the body.

Since then, Pence has hit at a torrid pace. His September numbers include a .407 batting average (22-for-54), four doubles, seven homers and 22 RBIs in 14 games. Saturday, he went 3-for-5 with a career-high seven RBIs.

Noticing that Brandon Belt had gone nearly a month without homering (his last one came on Aug. 15 at Washington), Pence urged his teammate to try the treatment that worked for him. Result: Belt collected five hits and six RBIs against the Dodgers on Saturday, both career highs. Among his hits was his 16th homer, aa two-run poke in the seventh inning.

Said Belt, “I think Hunter always likes to challenge people, make sure they have a positive mindset.”

That’s exactly how Pence saw it. “I just challenged him to keep pushing,” said Pence, who recalled telling Belt, “I want you to have a ‘dig-me’ session.”

As Pence explained, “Sometimes it makes you feel good to see what you’ve done and what you’re capable of.”

The greatest Giant of them all would agree.

“I would go home at night and create what I was going to do the next day,” Willie Mays said in an interview with MLB.com several years ago. “It sounds kind of childish. But if I feel that we’re going to have a good crowd or something, and I want to do something the next day to make sure the crowd enjoyed what I did, well, then I’d look at a couple of films by myself and figure out something that I can do to make them holler. And I would do it.”

*****

It’s staggering, really, that these Giants scored the highest number of runs in a single game at Dodger Stadium.

Consider all the impressive ballclubs and lineups that have performed at Chavez Ravine since the ballpark opened in 1962. The Cubs of Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo. The Big Red Machine. The Giants of Mays-Willie McCovey-Orlando Cepeda, or of Will Clark-Kevin Mitchell-Matt Williams. Any Braves lineup with Hank Aaron in it. Heck, even those Davey Lopes-Steve Garvey-Ron-Cey-Dusty Baker Dodgers clubs. And that’s mentioning just a few.

Pence admitted that a little luck was involved. “We hit a lot of bloops, a lot of jam shots that just fell in,” he said.

*****

Some leftover facts and figures from the Giants’ historic night:

– The Giants’ run total was their highest against Los Angeles since a 19-8 win on April 16, 1962 at Candlestick Park.

– The Dodgers hadn’t allowed this many runs since losing to the Cubs, 20-1, on May 5, 2001 at Wrigley Field.

– This was the Dodgers’ worst home loss since falling 19-2 to the Giants on July 3, 1947 at Ebbets Field.

Chris Haft

Belt, Crawford get attention

Tuesday, Nov. 29

SAN FRANCISCO — Contradicting their reputation for favoring veteran players, general manager Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy sounded upbeat about first baseman-outfielder Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford, who will enter Spring Training as candidates for the Opening Day lineup if they’re not shoved aside by free-agent or trade acquisitions.

Belt hit .300 in 28 games for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The Giants wanted the 23-year-old to accumulate more at-bats after an injury-marred season in which he hit .225 in 63 games for the Giants when he wasn’t making one of his three round-trips back to the Minors.

Sabean was impressed with what he saw of Belt on telecasts and videos.<p/>

“I think he made a concerted effort to make some adjustments,” Sabean said during Tuesday’s conference call. “It’s not Major League pitching, but you still have to have an approach. All the reports that we got from Moises Alou, who’s the general manager there, were favorable. He was playable in the outfield. We know his best position is probably first base, but this was a nice step for him. I’m really happy and pleased that he accepted this challenge.”

Crawford, 24, hit .276 in 21 games for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. His stint included a 16-game hitting streak during which he hit .338 (24-for-71). That helped Crawford make the AFL’s Top Prospects squad.

“We know what his glove brings, and he tried like hell to make [hitting] adjustments,” Sabean said. “He put the ball in play extremely well. He tried his damndest to stay off the high fastball, which was kind of his Kryptonite.”

Said Bochy of Crawford, “I think he’s a guy who can do some things to make a difference.”

*****

Bochy also praised catcher Hector Sanchez, who owned a .393 batting average in 32 games with La Guaira of the Venezuelan Winter League. All year, Bochy has monitored Sanchez’s improvement, which could result in a long look for the switch-hitting 22-year-old in Spring Training. Sanchez won’t unseat a healthy Buster Posey, but he could compete for a backup spot unless the Giants want him to gain more seasoning at Triple-A Fresno.

“I’m not going to be surprised to see him make a lot of noise this spring,” Bochy said.

*****

The hunch here is that the Giants will re-sign either Cody Ross or Andres Torres, but not both. Ross is a free agent; Torres is eligible for salary arbitration but probably will not be tendered a contract. That would save the Giants a million bucks or so if Torres, who would become a free agent after being non-tendered, opts to stay with the Giants.

Sabean lumped Torres along with other arbitration-eligibles, such as Jeff Keppinger and Mike Fontenot. “He’s certainly part of our discussions about what we’re going to try to do internally to go forward,” Sabean said. “He’s in a group of players who we still have time to make decisions on.”

Asked whether he thought Ross might return, Sabean said only, “Not sure.”

*****

Bobby Evans, the Giants’ vice president of baseball operations, said that third baseman Pablo Sandoval hasn’t decided whether to alter his plans for returning to Venezuela, where he had originally intended to participate in the winter league’s home run derby and play for a week to 10 days with Magallanes. Evans indicated that the kidnapping incident involving Washington catcher Wilson Ramos in Venezuela apparently isn’t a deterrent for Sandoval. But being in shape could be. He underwent laser eye surgery on Nov. 18, interrupting his training in Arizona.

Chris Haft

Ups, downs of signing Tejada

Tuesday, Nov. 30

Looking strictly at intangibles, the Giants couldn’t have signed a better replacement for Juan Uribe than Miguel Tejada.

Tejada is renowned for his effervescent attitude. He’s said to be ceaselessly positive — which must be genuine, considering all those years he spent playing for the downtrodden Orioles after repeatedly experiencing the postseason rush with the A’s. He’ll fit nicely with the Giants. They’ll miss Uribe — the White Sox did after he left that club — but they’ll adjust.

If I were a member of the Giants’ front office, I’d be more concerned with Tejada’s 74-point drop in slugging percentage from 2009 to this year’s .381. Having spent 14 years in the big leagues at age 36, Tejada’s unlikely to rebound. This increases the importance of Pablo Sandoval’s return to form and Brandon Belt’s ability to contribute. They can do much to compensate for the loss of Uribe’s 24 home runs and 85 RBIs. Because it’s doubtful that Tejada can accomplish this on his own. 

Yet don’t blame the Giants for balking at giving Uribe the same three-year deal that he received from L.A. If he stays healthy and productive for the duration of the contract, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. As spry as he was, he performed through numerous aches and pains with the Giants. Such nagging injuries often become worse as players grow older.

Uribe’s a heck of a clutch performer, as he proved constantly for San Francisco throughout the regular-season and postseason. That’s what the Giants might miss most from him in the long run. Let’s see how many big opportunities he receives as a Dodger.

– Chris Haft 

 

 

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