Batting Third: Brandon Belt, first base
Even the biggest Brandon Belt defenders had lost optimism that the onetime top prospect would ever reach the levels many had projected. A laundry list of injuries had taken their toll and Oracle Park had done him little favors. Yet, after starting the season on the injured list, Belt came out of nowhere with a career year at 32-years old.
Belt finished the year with career highs in batting average (.309), on-base percentage (.425), and slugging percentage (.591). He legitimately looked like one of the best hitters in baseball, consistently working counts, hitting for average, and hitting for power. Now the only question is can he do it again?
In hindsight, Belt’s performance was even more impressive since he was clearly dealing with heel pain all season from bone spurs that required offseason surgery. Belt’s aforementioned injury history makes projecting the first baseman into his mid-30s quite difficult. The pandemic shortened 60-game season may have enabled his body to be as close to peak performance as possible for most of the year. It’s hard to envision him doing the same thing for 162 games.
Of course, Belt has been one of the most perplexing players in baseball throughout his career. Whenever experts have been willing to say he had unlocked another level of play, he suffered an injury or entered a bad slump. On the flip side, whenever he seemed on the verge of offering nothing to the lineup, he went on an absolute tear.
Odds are, Belt will regress from his incredible 2020 performance. However, even if he does, he should still be a very good hitter. Steamer projects him to hit .255/.361/.452 with 20 home runs next season. Not bad. The Giants will also still have Wilmer Flores ready to step in for Belt if he needs a day off or has a tough matchup against a left-handed pitcher.
Even if the power dips, Belt’s ability to get on base via a walk and work deep counts remains invaluable to any lineup. Paired with Yastrzemski in the Giants top-three hitters, opposing pitchers would likely see their pitch counts suffer in the first inning of play. That could help get Giants hitters more opportunities to feast on opposing middle-relievers.