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Belt confident 2016 will be breakout season

Giants first baseman seeking consistency, hoping to avoid injury
MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt's performance has inched forward in some way every year. This year, the Giants first baseman feels ready for his productivity to take a quantum leap.

Consider what it would mean for the Giants to receive a big year from Belt. Combined with Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford, he'd guarantee that San Francisco would bring at least one truly dangerous hitter to the plate in virtually every inning.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Brandon Belt's performance has inched forward in some way every year. This year, the Giants first baseman feels ready for his productivity to take a quantum leap.

Consider what it would mean for the Giants to receive a big year from Belt. Combined with Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford, he'd guarantee that San Francisco would bring at least one truly dangerous hitter to the plate in virtually every inning.

Moreover, a productive Belt likely would enable manager Bruce Bochy to employ something closer to a set lineup. Belt started 60 games batting fifth, 30 batting sixth, 21 batting third, 10 batting fourth and eight hitting seventh last year.

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Belt's coming off a season in which he amassed career highs in home runs (18) and RBIs (68). Yet he believes he can do much more.

"It's nice to set those career highs and see you're getting better every year," Belt said Friday. "But I know there's a lot left and that's what I'm trying to tap into, sooner rather than later. I 100 percent feel like my best days are ahead of me. That's where experience comes in. I'm learning about the game all the time. I don't feel like there's anywhere to go but up. At the same time, it takes a lot of dedication, a lot of desire and a lot of hard work to get there."

To help Belt realize his wishes, Giants hitting coach Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens has urged the left-handed batter to lower his hands slightly as he takes his stance. This reduces wasted movement. Suddenly, foul tips or even swings-and-misses would become base hits.

Already, Bochy has mused about which right-handed batters he'll use at first base against formidable opposing left-handed starters, the implication being that Belt would move to the bench. However, Meulens has noticed that Belt handles left-handers fairly well when he uses the opposite field. Belt's far from helpless against lefties, having hit .264 off them last year and .265 against them in his career.

"It's in there," Meulens said. "He just has to realize that he can't be too jumpy against them."

All of this would be easier for Belt to accomplish if he could stay on the field more frequently. Three concussions in two years have limited his impact.

"I'd love to get 600-something plate appearances and play every single game the entire year -- just not have any obstacles thrown in," he said.

Thus, Belt's breakout year has eluded him. He tantalized observers by hitting .289 with 17 homers and 67 RBIs in 2013. He hit 12 homers in only 235 plate appearances in 2014. But last year he performed erratically, batting .189 in June between a .339 May and a .305 July.

"I want to avoid having those bad months and cut it down to a bad week or a bad two weeks," Belt said.

Plenty remains within the realm of opportunity for Belt, Meulens said: "He's gotten better every year. There's no reason to believe he can't do it again."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Haft-Baked Ideas, follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt