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Lames: Belt-busting, San Fran rookie a bloated fantasy value

Brad Evans
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Belt


This time each year, fantasy owners are hypersensitive, hypercritical and hype-obsessed. Commonly, buyers of the ballyhooed, an impatient group of virtual baseball consumers, trade-in proven commodities for gifted, but untested young talent, hoping to ride the coattails of the next Pedroia, Pujols or Posey to the Promised Land. As often the case, their foolish overpayment is rewarded with a double-digit finish.

Those who bought Brandon Belt on the bull may soon suffer a similar fate.

San Francisco's whale-saving rookie officially entered the realm of the over-hyped, joining the likes of 3D-TV, the Miami Heat, Jersey Shore and anything affiliated past, present or future with Brett Favre, after forcing Aubrey Huff from first base to the right-field this spring, a defensive move the Giants are already regretting. {YSP:MORE}

Initially, the maneuver was justified. In his second game of the season, the prodigious youngster launched a three-run homer against arch-rival Los Angeles. He followed up the next day with his first stolen base of the season. However, since then, the meter mover has flatlined. In total, he's collected just four hits in 22 at-bats (.182 BA). Though he's shown the count-working discipline of a 10-year vet, his vibrant flame has lost some of its heat. Despite the slow start, Belt and skipper Bruce Bochy are confident a turnaround will happen sooner rather than later. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Either way, he looked as unflappable after Tuesday's loss as he did after hitting his home run four nights earlier.

"It's magnified a little bit when you start the season," Belt said. "You don't like looking up to see your average in the 100s. All you can do is put good swings on the ball and hope some of them fall in."

Some managers might sit a rookie who is hitless in 12 at-bats, as Belt is, simply to prevent the 0-fer from getting into his head. Bruce Bochy obviously views the big Texan differently and plans to keep running him out there.

"I think he's seeing the ball well," Bochy said. "It's going to happen with this kid. It's his first time up here. We're going to be patient with him. He's going to figure it out. We're in the first week. We're not going to make any changes."

Owners who invested heavy coin in the UT product universally believed they had bought the next Buster Posey. Belt's minor league production certainly fed that line of thinking. Last year between three levels, he batted .352/.455/.620, blasting 23 homers with 22 steals. Exuding exceptional plate-discipline and a flawless swing, he drew comparisons to an unrefined Larry Walker, high praise for a recently converted pitcher. Based on the buzz, it's understandable why fantasy managers harvested plasma to pay for his services.

In reality, however, Belt will likely be a modest producer — at least this season. According to Baseball America, his power is only slightly above average. Down the road he may eclipse 25 homers annually, but, right now, his pop is more comparable to Gaby Sanchez or fellow rookie Freddie Freeman, players he may not outpace this year. The pitcher-friendly effects of AT&T does him no favors. And don't bank on him surpassing 20 SBs. He possesses only average speed. Assuming he stays in the lineup, at most 10-15 steals should be expected, and that might be a stretch. Batting down in the order will also suppress his RBI and runs output.

Frankly, the best one could hope for Belt's inaugural effort is a duplication of Jason Heyward's rookie season, a campaign that was the 106th-best among hitters. But matching that output is probably a stretch, and, if reached, would be relatively mediocre for a 1B. In terms of overall skills, Heyward is a significantly better talent who one day could be enshrined in Cooperstown. Belt isn't even in the same zip code.

Yes, the sample size is very small and the rookie's savviness at the dish will help him make the proper adjustments, but it's sage to place him on the auction block in non-keepers. Several owners are still slapping the wallet hard for his employment. In Yahoo! leagues this week, the hotshot attracted notable names Casey McGehee, Kendrys Morales, Dan Haren and Brian Wilson in one-for-one trades. In other words, wise owners should get while the gettin' is good.

In fantasy, hype is the repulsively awesome Denny's maple bacon sundae, which, if consumed, could lead to unwanted side effects. In Belt's case, devour it and heartache is sure to follow.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 493 at-bats, .267 BA, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 68 R, 9 SB

Other Passengers on the Lames Train …

Cole Hamels, Phi, SP: In his first start of 2011, loving Philly fans showered Hamels with a chorus of boos — he's lucky it wasn't Duracells — after the southpaw was hammered by arch-nemesis New York, giving up six earned on seven hits (three BBs) over 2.2 forgettable innings. Any experienced Hamels owner will tell you this is par for the course. Every year it seems he stumbles out of the gate. In 21 career April starts, he's posted a lackluster 7-9 record, 4.45 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. The early spring cold usually isn't kind. Owners worried about another ERA implosion in his next start against Atlanta should express some hesitancy. Last year against the Bravos, he tallied a bland 3.97 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in five starts. Still, despite his April showers, Hamels is a pitcher with many attractive qualities — high K/9, terrific groundball yield, positive run support, smokin' hot wife. If he again jumps on a grenade, consider pitching a low-ball offer.

Carl Crawford, Bos, OF: During the first week of the season, Boston's $142 million man has been a human elevator, moved up and down the Red Sox order. No matter what button Terry Francona has pushed, Crawford has failed to deliver. So far, the left-fielder is 4-for-19 with six strikeouts and zero extra-base hits. Tardiness on fastballs and impatience with off-speed junk are, as Crawford suggested, the primary reasons for his sluggish start. As a result, restless owners have already fielded offers for his services. After collecting two hits and two steals on Wednesday, it appears he's on the verge of a quick recovery. Once he regains his stroke, he will be a fixture in the two spot. Though a slight uptick in homers is possible, expect his production to mirror what he accomplished last year with the Rays (.307-19-90-110-47).

Ryan Raburn, Det, 2B/oF: The daily juggling act performed by Sam Elliot-clone Jim Leyland has severely hindered Raburn's production. In Detroit's first five games, the left-fielder has been the victim of an overcrowded outfield, riding the pine twice. Odds are, unless virtual managers have been hiding out in Leyland's Marlboro box, punctual substitutions haven't been made, a frustrating situation. When penciled in, he has produced, slapping four hits with an RBI in 11 at-bats. Because Brennan Boesch has swung a hot-stick in the early going, Raburn's availability will likely remain cloudy over the short-term. Eventually, however, the multi-eligible commodity should earn regular PT. The Tigers front office was very committed to him this past offseason and chances are strong Magglio Ordonez's groin will explode. Yes, Bill and Ted 3 will probably be less "bogus" than my Sleeper Sleuth forecast for Raburn, but assuming he totals around 500 at-bats, he should still finish as a borderline 2B1 in deeper mixers.

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