Name: Vince Belnome
DOB: March 11, 1988
Selected in the 28th-round out of West Virginia by the Padres in 2009, Belnome performed so well in Eugene that he played a critical role in the TinCaps drive towards a championship.
"He was a third baseman in college and we moved him to second because of (Edinson) Rincon," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He wasn't a guy that we really cross-checked, and it was just a great scouting job by Adam Bourassa [Bourassa played in the minors for five years, two of them with San Diego at Lake Elsinore and Mobile]. He's a very intense player, strong and loves the game. He had a great summer and gave Fort Wayne a nice late season bump."
Belnome hit .297 across 65 games with short-season Eugene prior to his promotion. He collected 27 extra-base hits, scored 53 runs and notched 44 RBI. The infielder also posted a 52-to-55 walk-to-strikeout ratio for a .431 on-base percentage.
"He comes to play every single day," former Eugene hitting coach Eric Peyton said. "Ever since the first day of camp, he was very aggressive, very open, and made adjustments. He is a gamer. He has played three different positions and his approach is how you want to handle playing everyday. It has been fun to watch."
"A guy that can use the whole field and has some power," former minor league field coordinator Tom Gamboa said.
He was third in the Northwest League in homers, going yard once every 23.60 at-bats, and placed second in on-base percentage, second in runs scored and first in walks drawn. His 24-game on-base streak was the sixth best mark in the circuit.
The Pennsylvania native hit .320 with runners on base and .308 off right-handed pitchers while netting a .443 on-base percentage against left-handers.
"Almost like a Daniel Robertson the year before," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "Late round guy, 27th-round, I don't know what it was, I don't pay any attention to the pick, but the guy that nobody else took the flyer on, and I think he ended up leading Fort Wayne in hitting that final month. I'm not positive, but I don't look at what their stats are, but I think he was up there and almost led the team in hitting. Belnome's the same way.
Belnome then hit .500 across 10 games during the regular season in Fort Wayne, going 16-for-32 with four extra-base hits and 10 RBI – hitting .636 with runners in scoring position. He went on to hit .297 during the Midwest League playoffs, notching five extra-base hits, scoring seven runs and driving in seven.
"What we saw was pretty much exactly what he did in Eugene hitting-wise, a very selective type hitter, great approach to the ball," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "A lot of power for someone that hit the ball the opposite field and have the ability to hit it over the fence is really something special. Greg Riddoch said that he could do that, and he came right up and did it and he almost hit a homerun to straightaway center field in Game three against Great Lakes to end up being a two-out, RBI double to tie the game up at 3-3.
"A very good approach, good solid hitter and a great, good ballplayer."
"It's a credit to the athlete," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "There are some guys, not a lot, in fact, very few that just cruise through with success through every level. Belnome hasn't missed a beat."
"He did a real nice job," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "He came in right away from the very beginning you see that he can swing the bat a little bit and he ended up really picking us up because we were, we needed a bat in the lineup too. So he ended up doing real well for us; a real nice job. I thought he was a pretty good player. I didn't hear much about him before until he came here, and when he came, just watching him on the field he carried himself real well and fit right in with us."
The second baseman batted .418 with nine home runs and a school-record 84 RBI in 2009 for West Virginia. His 84 runs driven in were sixth-best in the nation, while his team-leading .519 on-base percentage was 13th in the country.
Playing as a 21-year-old in 2009, Belnome showed a consistent approach to the ball without a lot of movement or jerky motions. He already had a feel for using the wood bat and seemed learn on the fly, making adjustments from pitch-to-pitch rather than waiting an at-bat or a few games. As the year progressed and the opposition pitched him tougher, Belnome again adjusted.
"He can flat hit, as long as he stays in his zone," Riddoch said. "When he starts chasing pitches belt high and above, and he swings and misses - but belt high and down, he's going to crush it."
His starting position is with the bat resting on his back shoulder. It is a relaxed position for the infielder and keeps him from wrapping his bat head behind his head. He simply raises the barrel as he goes into his load and springs forward. Belnome has a pronounced knee bend that allows him to derive power from his legs. His movements during his load are slow and deliberate. He then kicks it into gear on his release with quick wrists and hands. He does not lift his front leg and stride forward, instead using it as a balance point to push back from to shift his weight onto his back foot until he releases.
A very good batting eye aided his development. Belnome has strong pitch recognition and sits back on the ball as long as possible before exploding forward.
"One of the easier guys to teach; there was nothing to teach," Peyton said. "He was already inside the baseball, pretty much his stance was clean. I didn't even really talk to him in detail, but he seemed to know what he wanted to do.
"He started recognizing a couple pitches they were getting him out on and he was able to lay off them. He goes to Fort Wayne and keeps hitting! So, some good hits; really swung the bat well."
There are times when Belnome gets wide-eyed at pitches in the upper half of the zone – a pitch he does not handle well. When that happens, Belnome is usually pulling his head off the ball and coming out of his stance.
Belnome uses the entire field as his playground, a vital trait to have success at the highest levels. He can pull an inside pitch to jolt one out of the park just as easy as taking a ball away to the opposite field – and he does have power going the other way. It also means that he will hit good pitching and doesn't have to play catch up to quality fastballs.
His innate ability to drive the ball into the left-center field gap means there is even more power brewing in the solidly built specimen. Ten homers in 2009 could be just the beginning for the young West Virginia alumnus.
"The one thing I liked about him, he's not pull conscience," Muser said. "His ability to strike the ball with power the other way, he didn't have built in pull to his swing, which told me that as the bat travels through the hitting area, he's not trying to cheat and get the bat head out front to be a pull guide. His power was the opposite way to left center field, which helps him tremendously.
"So he kind of came into pro ball with a pretty good swing and didn't try to cheat to get out front. High velocity didn't bother him where he had to cheat and try to get the bat head out front. He just stayed behind it and drove the ball and using the entire field was to me the reason for success."
A former third baseman, Belnome settled into second base and improved tremendously as the season went on. Stiff to begin the year, he became more fluid in his lateral movement. He has a lot of work to do on setting his feet and gaining a balance point before his throw, turning the double play, and becoming more fluid in his glove to hand exchange.
"He probably improved his range, five feet in each direction because he's a work ethic oriented kid," Riddoch said. "He did a decent job defensively in second and third, both, but got much better defensively. He needs to work on turning two and being quicker with his hands on the exchange. But, wow, he had a tremendous year and helped both clubs. What a great draft that was for, do you now what pick he was 27th! That's a heck of a pick. When the scouts tell me that after the eighth-round there was nothing there. It was prospects to the eighth round. I've heard this from three or four pro scouts, that after the eighth round go find three or four guys with tools that can play a little bit, but there's not a whole lot of tools out there. So that's a pretty nice looking pick right there."
Belnome is not a base stealing threat but is more than just a station-to-station runner. He is a hustle player that will test the defense because of his desire for more. He has the ability to move from first to third on a single and runs each ball out in order to force the defense to make a play.
Tremendous makeup and work ethic follow him around. He has the ability to make those around him better, as a result. He has passion for the game and has been a true find in the latter rounds.
"He used both fields," Riddoch said. "I think he hit ten home runs for us; five to left, five to right, or maybe six and four. But he's got opposite field power, including one that he hit in Tri-Cities where the ball does not fly at all. Nobody hits home runs there, and he hit one out there one night that went out to left center field and the flag was standing straight down. Not a drop of wind and it went way out. I went, ‘Holy Jesus!' Now there is wood bat and real power the opposite way. He can hit!"
Conclusion: Already possessing plate awareness and an opposite field approach that shows power, Belnome is ahead of the curve with age still on his side. He has a chance to blossom into a special offensive force. He needs to improve upon his defensive skill-set and stay within himself at the plate by not chasing those high, look so juicy, fastballs.
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