SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After Brandon Belt took live batting practice off righty Matt Carasiti, Gabe Kapler made a beeline for his first baseman. The two shared a conversation for a few minutes, a smile appearing a couple times on Belt’s face, and that was that.
Before media began asking questions of Kapler on Wednesday, Kapler wanted to talk about Belt, an object of Giants fans’ love and enmity over the years for an unyielding batting eye and plate discipline without the punch many look for out of first basemen.
A day prior, Kapler mentioned that Jaylin Davis’ confidence must be kept up through positive reinforcement, constant reminders that he belongs. The positivity abounds; Kapler wants his players to know that he believes in them.
Belt is “kind of an assassin in there in that he’s not passive at all,” Kapler said of the 31-year-old coming off a down season. “He’s very aggressive. But if a pitch doesn’t look like he can drive it, he’s just laying off. Then when something hangs or he gets a good pitch to hit, he’s really taking a good, healthy aggressive pass. I just think we value his approach at the plate so much.”
If he had not made it painfully obvious already, Kapler wanted to firmly take his side on the Belt Wars. The first baseman, ever polarizing in part because of his stubborn eye, has a manager and regime that want him to know they understand and value what he brings to the game.
Last year, to be fair, it was not overwhelming, Belt’s .339 on-base percentage his lowest since his injury-shortened 2014. In more than 600 plate appearances Belt knocked 17 home runs, respectable but not typical out of a big corner infielder.
Bruce Bochy experimented with him at the top of the lineup, both trying to start off games with a baserunner but also trying to snap Belt out from a funk he never quite got out of.
Kapler, as is his wont, did not want to pigeonhole Belt anywhere. Sure, he can be a middle-of-the-lineup bat. Sure, he can be a leadoff hitter. Sure, Wilmer Flores can spell him against lefties, and Belt could see less time against southpaws. But sure, Belt has had seasons that he hit better against lefties and “let’s see the spring play out a little bit.”
What the Giants, and Belt, can be sure of is Kapler wants Belt, whom he recently met with at their player-evaluation meeting, to know he has his backers within the organization.
“He’s had well-above-average major league years,” Kapler said from Scottsdale Stadium. “And there have been times where he’s been elite at the plate and hasn’t gotten the credit that he deserves.”