Should Brandon Belt crack the Giants’ Opening Day lineup?

Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt is the 26th ranked player on writer Jonathan Mayo’s Top 50 Prospects List for 2011.

If there are 25 prospects having a better spring than Belt, then I need my eyes checked.

Belt went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and a solo home run in a win over the White Sox on Wednesday. It was his second dinger of the spring and he’s now hitting .302 with 10 RBI over 43 at bats. The kid is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball and making the Giants’ decision about whether or not he should break camp with the big league club.

But there are a couple of problems.

Problem I: Aaron Rowand
Rowand still has two years left on his ridiculous contract and if Belt makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll force Aubrey Huff to move into an already crowded outfield. The Giants would likely either have to eat Rowand’s contract and/or bend over and take less value in a trade, neither of which they seem ready to do.

Problem II & III: Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa
Both are out of minor league options and one can make a case that both deserve a roster spot. Schierholtz has a cannon attached to his right arm and is a left-handed bat, while Ishikawa plays an outstanding first base and proved to be a nice bat off the bench last year. Teams would probably be more interested in trading for Schierholtz than either Rowand or Ishikawa, but if the Giants were to keep Belt then they would need to part with at least one other player. (Thus, Belt, Schierholtz, Rowand and Ishikawa are all fighting for two roster spots.)

Problem IV: Belt’s service time.
This might be the biggest issue when it comes right down to it. If the Giants send Belt down to the minors and keep him there for a couple of months, they’ll gain another year of control when it comes to his contract. If they absolutely don’t need him to play (which they don’t, even though most SF fans want him to), then why rush him up to the big league club? NL Rookie of the Year Buster Posey didn’t even crack the Giants’ big league roster last year, so it seems unlikely that Belt will, too.

GM Brian Sabean was adamant at the start of spring training that Belt needs more Tripe-A bats and while he’s softened his stance on those comments of late, it still seems likely that the next Buster Posey will start the season in Fresno and not San Francisco. (Or L.A. if you want to be Mr. Literal.) Consider this, too: Huff, who would need to play LF if Belt makes the big league club, hasn’t played one inning in the outfield this spring.

Should Belt crack the Giants’ Opening Day roster? If this were purely a baseball decision, then yes, he should. But because business also factors into the situation, it’s not a matter of “should” but “will” he make the big league roster. And that answer is most likely no.

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