Friday, May 27, 2011

What Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford can give to the Giants

Kevin O'Brien, who is a contributor here and runs the excellent Giants farm blog, Optioned to Fresno, gives us a great idea of what to expect with the new Brandons that joined the Giants yesterday.

First up, uber prospect Brandon Belt:
Belt though was far from perfect in Fresno. He struck out 31 times, a 30.6 percent rate. Furthermore, his contact rate wasn't very impressive at 69 percent (you read that right). While Belt wasn't overpowered or overwhelmed by the Pacific Coast League pitching, it was obvious that his plate patience was his worst enemy at times. Belt seemed to be almost too selective, and he ended up helping pitchers by getting behind in counts early and often in many of his at-bats. Now, I don't think Belt will be a 69 percent contact hitter in the Majors. In his short tenure with the Giants earlier this year, he posted a contact rate of 77.7, so his low contact rate may have just been a stretch where he was figuring out the pitching and what he could hit for power and what he could lay off of. Nonetheless, Belt probably needs to show more aggressiveness at the dish this time around in the Majors, for he is needed to spark this Giants offense, and MLB pitchers won't make as many mistakes as PCL hurlers.
Another issue for Belt is the decrease in power from a year ago. After posting slugging percentages of .623 in Richmond and .563 in Fresno a season ago, Belt's slugging dipped to .525 this year. Also his ISO fell to .188 with the Grizzlies, the first time it had ever been under the .200 mark in his minor league career. Still though, Belt does offer a lot of offensive upside, even with the power numbers down, and if you look at his competition, Belt doesn't need to be incredible offensively (Huff has a slugging of .337 and Ross has a slugging of .378). If he can be in the mid-to-high .700 (or even low .800) range in terms of OPS for the remainder of the year in San Francisco, and if he can continue to display his solid eye at the plate (he did produce a BB/K ratio of 0.62 in the Majors this year), then Belt certainly will be a boost to this inconsistent Giants offense (and it is possible in my opinion, as his Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced an OPS of .896).
My general thought is the expectations for Belt are going to be too high. With him coming up to replace the offensive void left by the injured Buster Posey, if he doesn't get hot right away, fans may turn on him and he may lose whatever confidence he built up in AAA. This is a concern of mine that probably won't go away for a while.

Next is someone who may not be as familar to casual followers of the farm system, Brandon Crawford. Crawford is a South Bay native and a former fourth round pick out of UCLA. Here is the skinny on him:
The big question for Crawford will be how he will adjust in the Majors after relatively struggling in the Eastern League the past two years. His Major League Equivalent from a year ago produced a .226 average, a .303 OBP, a .347 slugging, a .650 OPS, a contact rate of 77 percent and a BB/K ratio of 0.47. Those numbers aren't exactly on par with what Giants fans saw from Crawford this year in San Jose. Nonetheless, Crawford may be okay if he can post those numbers this year, or perhaps perform slightly above. Crawford is a solid defender who has gotten good reports from scouts and the Giants brass. An OPS in the .700 range would be a luxury for this Giants team considering his defense, and even an OPS in the mid .600 range would be tolerable. After all, he hasn't played beyond Double-A, so there is going to be a learning period for Crawford at the plate, and the Giants management and fans need to be patient as he develops.

Crawford may have been called up prematurely because of the dire need for depth in the Giants infield with Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval on the DL. That being said, this stint with the Giants will be very telling for Crawford. If he can hold his own somewhat, it'll give the Giants even more incentive to hand him the starting position next year. If not, then one could see the Giants management panic and look to deal for Jose Reyes, which would cost the Giants a lot of money in addition to some valuable prospects. I'm not expecting the world from Crawford in this callup. But if he can be a replacement-level player offensively, he could be of some value to this Giants roster because he still has room to grow and develop as a player, and he's an obvious upgrade over Miguel Tejada defensively at shortstop.
This is in line with what I expected from Crawford as well. If he hits at all, he is valuable. Before the season, I made a nice little graph showing where he would need to hit to be more valuable than Miguel Tejada. He just needs to hit at the current Tejada level (.230 wOBA) assuming that Tejada rebounds to his ZIPS in season projection of .280 wOBA.

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