by Eno Sarris //
San Francisco Giants’ first-base prospect Brandon Belt is only 22 years old, has only played one season in the minor leagues, is blocked at his major league position by the recently re-signed Aubrey Huff (as R.J. Anderson noted yesterday)… and yet, he may make a fantasy impact in 2011 despite all of these obstacles. He’s jumped many a hurdle already.
In 2006, Belt was drafted in the 11th round by the Red Sox – as a high school pitcher. In 2007, he was drafted in the same round by the Braves – once again, as a pitcher. Then Belt went to the University Texas and struck out eight batters per nine as a reliever, only accruing 17 innings in 2008. After his 2009 season, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Giants.
If you are unfamiliar with his story, this progression might seem strange. The explaining factor is that Belt decided to focus on hitting with the Longhorns, and in that second season at the university, he put up a .323/.416/.523 line (with 40 walks against 37 strikeouts) that caught San Francisco’s eye. They drafted him, corrected his stance by asking him to widen his base and raise his hands, and set him loose on the minor leagues.
In short, he dominated despite lacking much experience as a hitter. In 595 plate appearances across High-, Double- and Triple-A, Belt hit .352/.455/.620 and walked 93 times against 99 strikeouts. That’s a 15.6% walk rate and a 20.1% strikeout rate, both excellent for a power hitter. Even in Triple-A, where he only accrued 61 plate appearances and ‘struggled’ with a .229 batting average, the rest of his triple-slash line looked just fine (.393/.563), and he walked 13 times against 15 strikeouts. He has an excellent idea of what to do at the plate.
The team sent him to the AFL to get more at-bats, and perhaps see if he was ready to play in the major leagues in 2011. Mission accomplished – Belt’s .372/.427/.616 line looked excellent even in the context of the offense-first AFL. This is true of all of Belt’s numbers. Even if you adjust for his slightly offense-friendly leagues, he has been excellent. Considering that his Double-A league, the Eastern League, was considered slightly pitcher-friendly in a recent study, there seems to be little left for Belt to prove in the minor leagues.
The best part about Belt’s work so far is the fact that he’s made these adjustments in his first professional year. That bodes well for future adjustments – both in terms of dealing with major-league pitching, as well as possible short-term positional adjustments. He’s also a very athletic guy with a smooth and easy way about him, as this video taken by Paul Sporer shows.
Of course there are hurdles left for Belt to jump – he has to prove that he’s either capable of playing in the outfield or capable of being so impressive at the plate that Huff should move there in his stead – but Belt has overcome higher obstacles already. He’s a good bet for fantasy relevance at some point in 2011.
For more on Brandon Belt and other young studs, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.
By R.J. Anderson //
The San Francisco Giants secured the services one of their unlikely 2010 heroes today, re-signing Aubrey Huff for two years and $22 million (with a club option for a third year). I took a look at what Huff’s real world value to the Giants meant at FanGraphs, so in the interest of new material, let’s focus on solely his fantasy value.
Over the last three seasons, Huff has teetered between good and bad offensive player to the extremes of which are nothing shy of a rarity. With the Orioles in 2008, he hit .304 with 32 home runs and 108 runs batted in. That kind of production made his 2009 season even more of an unexpected disaster, as he managed a .241/.310/.384 line with just 15 home runs while splitting time with the Orioles and Tigers. Nobody knew what to expect from Huff entering 2010, and as a result, the Giants were able to secure him at a relatively low cost. He made them quite the return on investment, hitting .290/.385/.506 with 26 home runs in a pitcher’s paradise.
Taking an average of those three seasons nets you a .280 batting average with 24 home runs and 93 runs batted in. Take into consideration Huff’s age (he turns 34 turns before Christmas) along with the ballpark, and Huff is unlikely to replicate those numbers. That means a safer expectation for next season is a slight decline in each category; i.e. a .270 average instead of .280, 20 home runs instead of 24, and 80-to-85 runs batted in instead of 90-plus. That means he still holds fantasy value, especially if eligible at multiple positions.
The one consequence this re-signing holds for the Giants is that top prospect Brandon Belt is blocked for the foreseeable future. Eno Sarris will have more on what that means for Belt’s value later this week.
by Eno Sarris //
There’s a slugger in San Francisco hitting long homers into the bay in San Francisco these days. Aubrey Huff is a lot less surly than the last version, though, and looks to be underrated by the average fantasy manager.
How else would you explain that a player with 12 home runs and a sparkling .307 batting average is about half of Yahoo leagues? There aren’t many 30-home run candidates available on the wire.
Perhaps owners can be forgiven for leaving Huff there – he had an underwhelming .241/.310/.384 line combined for the Tigers and Orioles last year. Moving to a park that suppresses home runs by 18.8% this year, he was an afterthought in drafts going into this season. Then again, Huff is a lefty, and according to Baseball Prospectus’ park factors by handedness, lefties slug .371 on average at AT&T Park, compared to .351 for righties (thanks to Bill Baer of CrashburnAlley.com for the nudge in the right direction). StatCorner.com muddies the water by pointing out that home runs have a mediocre 93 park factor for righties, but an even worse 88 park factor for lefties – meaning whatever extra-base hit lift lefties get comes from the huge gap in right-center, fueling a bump in doubles and triples. Either way, we should not have discounted Huff completely because of his move to his new park.
Amazingly, there was an outside chance we could have seen Huff’s power output coming. Huff has alternated from low-powered to high-powered performances his whole career. Look at the table on the left. It’s no clean-cut, easily explainable issue, but it’s clear that despite a general trend toward more flyballs, Huff has not had the corresponding trend toward a higher isolated slugging mark (slugging percentage minus batting average) that should have come along with that trend. After all, the batting line on the average flyball this year is .222/.217/.568, which produces an average ISO of .246, compared to groundballs’ .018 ISO. Another way of saying this is that Huff’s ISO has oscillated so much that it’s hard to discern a similar positive trend in that statistic.
Though we know that ISO doesn’t stabilize until almost a full season of data, we also know from Huff that his ISO has not stabilized over his whole career. Judging from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools spider graphs on the right, this looks like one of his more powerful years.
In the years that Huff has had a .200+ ISO, Huff has averaged 27.5 home runs. A shot at that sort of power production this year is worth picking up in a league of any size. That he’s hitting in the middle of the order, and thus gaining plenty of RBI chances, only makes him more valuable. If Huff is available in your league, grab him immediately.