Closing Time: Brandon Belt puts it all together

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8795/" data-ylk="slk:Brandon Belt">Brandon Belt</a> looks like a player who’s finally figured it out (AP)
Brandon Belt looks like a player who’s finally figured it out (AP)

Brandon Belt has always been a solid player. He’s always been a fascinating at-bat. Is this the year he finally blossoms into a legitimate star?

Belt homered for the fourth straight game Thursday, in what turned into an extra-inning loss to the Rockies. Belt’s career slash is at personal bests for all categories, .305/.404/.583, and given that he’s never topped 18 homers in a year, you might be suspicious at someone who already has 10 in just 41 games. But maybe this is what a career season looks like.

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Belt currently has the best zone and overall contact rate of his career. His hard-hit number is far and away the best of his life, and he’s also pulling he ball more than he has in four years. Even his .364 BABIP isn’t that much of an outlier given that his career mark is .335. If you want more proof of what a craftsman he is, consider his classic 21-pitch at-bat earlier this year, or how skilled he’s been at one particular good-swing metric — and this dates back to 2012.

Okay, enough alphabet soup. Take a break from the science, appreciate the art. Tell me this swing isn’t absolutely gorgeous.

I always love left-handed batters who can hang in against lefties, and that’s a Belt thing. His career OPS against southpaws is .791. And while AT&T Park costs Belt home runs — he’s hit 28 more homers on the road for his career — he’s still a good batter at home. His career average is 22 points better in front of the McCovey Cove fans, and his slugging percentage is actually five points higher in San Francisco. You get more taters on the road, you get more gappers (and you might need an extra clothing layer) at home.

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I wonder if some Yahoo owners are cashing out too quickly when Belt simply might have grown up at age 30. In recent Yahoo trades, Belt went 1-for-1 for Matt Davidson and Marcell Ozuna, respectively. In both cases, I see Belt as the better play. And heck, Belt was on pace to hit 28 homers last year, if not for injuries. He’s otherwise been durable for most of his career.

Overall, the Giants might not be going anywhere. The offense is 17th in runs. The team dropped a game under .500 after the latest loss, and it’s been outscored by 28. But Belt has turned into must-see TV whenever he’s at the dish. And in the leagues where I have some Belt shares, you’ll have to pony up a major bat for me to even consider a deal. He qualifies at two positions. He’s especially fun in OBP formats.

Sometimes the most important word in fantasy baseball is “hold.”

• The Pirates waited and waited on the Starling Marte situation, but they wait no longer. Marte has an oblique strain and he’s headed to the DL. Rated outfield prospect Austin Meadows gets the call to replace Marte. Let’s take a look at the new kid.

Meadows was the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft, and he’s been up and down the prospect ranks. He was a Top 25 kid for 2016 and Top 10 into last year, but a mediocre season in Triple-A (.250/.311/.359, four homers, 11 steals in 72 games) silenced some buzz. A torn hamstring wrecked his season, suddenly, last summer.

Meadows has gotten back on track this year, in his age-23 season. Oh, the power hasn’t developed — he has just one homer in 136 plate appearances, and a slugging percentage under .400. But a .294 average and a .336 OBP will play, and he’s stolen eight bases in nine attempts. Look for the Pirates to give him ample opportunities to run. He’s free to grab in 89 percent of Yahoo leagues, if you want to do the Austin Meadows hop.

• The Padres are another offense that’s hard on the eyes. Quality and protective eyewear, please. The Friars are 26th in runs, 28th in average, 29th in OPS.

Travis Jankowski is trying to help.

Injuries forced a Jankowski recall at the end of April, and he’s done nothing but produce since. The 26-year-old outfielder is at .360/.458/.500 for his 50 at-bats, with a homer, four steals, 10 runs scored. And while that slash is obviously over Jankowski’s head, consider he has nine walks against 10 strikeouts. When that ratio is anywhere in the neighborhood of one, get excited — that player is controlling his at-bats.

Call it East Coast bias or Padres ennui, but Jankowski hasn’t caught on with fantasy owners yet. He’s just 13 percent owned in Yahoo. He’s batted leadoff in six of seven games, and I can’t see why that will change anytime soon. Deeper-leaguers have taken the plunge, but those in middle-range mixers should jump in as well.

• I know Carlos Santana must be having an interesting season when my buddy Scott Jenstad keeps asking about him. Scotty J. won’t steer you wrong. That .195 average on Santana might bump you offline, but see the full picture.

Santana is another guy on a power binge, with five in his last 10 games. He’s collected 25 strikeouts against 26 walks — again, that’s such a money metric for us because it stabilizes quicker than most other stats. The .443 slugging is actually close to Santana’s career mark despite a sub-Mendoza average. Imagine when Santana finally starts to hit into some good luck.

Santana has increased his hard-hit rate this year but his BABIP is down 96 points. You can see the incongruity there. He qualifies in the outfield and at first base. The Phillies aren’t going to regret this free-agent signing, not in 2018 anyway. Santana’s actually turned himself into a capable defender. And the batting average might be shielding some fantasy players from a useful asset.

It’s easy to say this now with the pop coming around, but stay the course. And more broadly (and more applicable for the future), take clues from the sharp owners in your own league. And remember how much we can learn from walks and strikeouts, the most Occam’s Razor fantasy approach there is. Common sense remains your best friend in this racket.

• A weekend heads up on Pittsburgh righty Nick Kingham, who’s slated to pitch Saturday against San Diego. The Pirates briefly returned him to the minors, but that was just roster jockeying. Kingham has earned an extended audition. His first two starts were outstanding: 12.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 16 K. Again, look at those two final stats.

A classic post-hype case, Kingham remains unowned in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues.

• Your other scouting assignment for Saturday is the Milwaukee-Minnesota game. Minnesota RHP Fernando Romero has been nails in his two MLB starts (0.54/1.20), and Freddy Peralta struck out 13, in Coors Field of all places, when the Brewers tapped him on the shoulder. Romero should be up for good, Peralta is more the wide-range-of-outcomes guy. I’ll put them on the telly and try to figure out where this story is headed.

Romero has been added aggressively, of course, and his ownership tag is high enough that I can’t even promote him as a pickup — he’s gone in any paying-attention league. But Peralta remains unclaimed in 53 percent of Yahoo leagues. This story could go in a number of directions, especially when you consider Peralta is just 21, but when we see plausible upside, we need to consider action. That’s how I’ve always played, and that’s how I’m always going to play.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy BehrensDalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski

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