OK, I'm cheating. There will be thirteen Giants on my 2012 radar. It's a devil's dozen--perfect for Christmas. Besides I'm a 13 kind of guy, being born on Friday the 13th and all. Brandon Crawford gets the first nod as he was drafted in 2008, a year before Brandon Belt. The most famous and accomplished of the 2008 class is Buster Posey, the 5th pick that year. Crawford was a 4th-rounder, #117 overall, behind Conor Gillaspie (#37, 1st-suppplemental) and Roger Kieschnick (#82, 3rd round). Edwin Quirarte came in the 5th round (#147) and Eric Surkamp in the 6th (#177). The Giants selected 50 players in that draft.
Crawford comes to the Giants from UCLA (my brother's alma mater), the same school that produced the likes of Chase Utley, Eric Byrnes, Troy Glaus, Dave Roberts, and Eric Karros. He sports a .266/.331/.403 line in 1107 minor league plate appearances and a .204/.288/.296 line for The Show (220 PA). The Giants say they are going to start the kid at shortstop in 2012. It is a bold move. Or, it is a crazy, desperation move for a team that wouldn't spend an extra nickel in the off-season and gave Orlando "44 OPS+" Cabrera 39 games and 133 PA in 2011. Which one do you like? I like the ballsy, savvy, counter-intuitive, anti-B&S-veteran-fixation kinda thing. He certainly has a big-league glove, better than any Giants infielder since Omar Vizquel, and better than any Giants-bred SS since Chris Speier. FanGraphs gives him a positive WAR (0.5), pretty tough to do with a 66 OPS+, so they think he's got some serious game on the defensive side as well. Mark Belanger had a career 68 OPS+ over 18 seasons. There was a time when shortstops weren't expected to hit, especially on a pitching-dependent team. I wonder if you can still play that kind of ball in the NL today! Crawford will be 25 on January 21st.
Speaking of hitting, Brandon Belt is the best minor league hitter the Giants have produced in a long time, even topping Buster's numbers. Belt--he with the perfect name for a slugger--has a ridiculous .343/.457/.596 track record and 399 total bases in 189 games for San Jose, Richmond, and Fresno. The dude can rake. We all know about the yo-yo treatment he got last season, and we are all expecting some of the same this season, what with Ten Million Dollar Man Aubrey Huff getting all the VSC love from Big Head. Belt will likely see some time in the outfield, too, this despite the fact that both FNGs are OFs and Nate Schierholtz is still around. Alas, the youngster is going to have to impress the brass--again. There were times last year when he looked absolutely lost at the plate, yet he still managed to post a league-average 101 OPS+ (.225/.306/.412) which was better than many sporting the orange-and-black did in 2011 (including Huff). Belt is clearly the first baseman of the future. Even if Huff repeats his stellar 2010 I think it is safe to assume they'll send the 35-year old on his way (the 2013 club option has a $2M buyout). Belt will be the Man with the Mitt for the next several seasons, and that's pretty damn exciting. Young, talented, and cost-controlled, the three best things a player can be in the modern game. I'm supposed to talk about 2012, though, and it is hard to figure what will happen. Bill James projects him as a full-time starter with an eye-popping .266/.358/.482 and 25 HR. Hey, I'll take it. I think it is more likely he'll be platooning as I imagine his struggles last season were more about maturity than skill. I'm actually not worried about Belt. He'll get his chances and I think we'll get to see some great stuff. He'll be 24 on April 20th.
Happy St. Stephen's Day!
p.s. Belt was a 5th-rounder in 2009, the 147th pick overall, from the University of Texas. That was Zack Wheeler's class (he was #6 overall). Tommy Joseph (2nd, #55), Chris Dominguez (3rd, #86), and Jason Stoffel (4th, #117) filled out the rest of the top five of the fifty players chosen. Much-hyped Stephen Strasburg was number one that year, and Dustin Ackley number two. Giants fans may remember Mike Minor (#7, Braves) and Mike Leake (#8, Reds) throwing zeros and picking up wins against the 2011 team.