Opening Time: Brandon Belt builds his case

San Francisco Giants first base prospect Brandon Belt had a busy afternoon against the White Sox on Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and three runs scored. He singled and walked off Chicago starter Mark Buehrle, though he was also picked-off by the veteran lefty. (No shame there. Buehrle is a pick-off specialist; only Joe West can contain him). Belt raised his spring average to .302 in the Giants' 5-3 win.

While Belt still seems likely to open the year at Triple-A, for all the usual reasons, he's at least forced his way into the opening day roster conversation:

"It's not just today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's played well. He's had good at-bats. I mean, this thing, it's going to go probably down to the last few days before we know which way we're going to go. He's doing what he can do, and that's play good baseball."

So don't leave the kid off your draft board. Belt was a fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft, but he quickly emerged as one of the game's top overall prospects (No. 23 in Baseball America's 2011 ranks). He's really one of the game's great player-development success stories, at least to this point in his pro career. This from Andy Baggarly's BA profile of Belt:

In instructional league following the 2009 seson, Belt made rapid progress after coaches had him try and upright, open stance. "All we did was square him up and give him some direction back toward the middle," San Francisco farm director Fred Stanley said. "Just kind of freed him up so his hips and hands can work … and my goodness."

Last year, Belt opened the season at Single-A San Jose and finished at Triple-A Fresno. Across three minor league levels, he hit a ridiculous .352/.455/.620 with 76 extra-base hits (23 homers) and 22 steals. We can be reasonably certain that he'll arrive at AT&T Park at some point this season (official guess: June 3), so keep him in your plans.

White Sox closer candidate Chris Sale hasn't exactly had a dominant spring (7.36 ERA) — "I'm just not locating," he says — so it appears that Matt Thornton is at the top of Chicago's bullpen hierarchy. On Wednesday, no less an authority than Peter Gammons tweeted that Thornton had "first dibs" on the closer role.

If Kendrys Morales is going to crack the Angels' opening day lineup, it sounds like he might require a courtesy runner. So hopefully they'll use park district softball rules in the A.L. West this season. "[Morales] still has some things he needs to do before he gets in games," said manager Mike Scioscia. "Running bases is one of them." Kendrys' situation will impact two players, Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, who've been terrific during the exhibition season:

If Morales can't make it, Mark Trumbo — one of the game's hottest hitters this spring — will be at first base with Bobby Abreu in the DH role. If Morales can only appear in the lineup as the DH, Abreu likely goes to left and Vernon Wells to center, with Peter Bourjos the odd man out.

Trumbo is hitting .340 with five homers; Bourjos is batting .345, reaching base at a .444 clip, and he's swiped three bases.

Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel are both battling injuries at the moment — pectoral issue for Frank, hamstring for Dotel — so there's a possibility that Jon Rauch may poach a few saves early in the season. Jason Frasor is lurking, too. This blurb is loaded with awful names, so let's just move on …

The X-rays on Danny Espinosa's right foot were reportedly negative, so no need to panic there. Your semi-sleeper middle infielder should be just fine.

Brian Roberts sure seems like a creaky old man, though apparently he's only 33. He might be able to make an appearance in a game this weekend, or he might not. Hard to say. It's 50/50, according to his manager.  Roberts has already dealt with neck and back pain this spring. He's still being drafted as a top-12 second baseman in Yahoo! leagues, ahead of Kendrick, Figgins, Hill, Beckham and Walker. I cannot endorse that ADP.


Photo via Getty Images

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