SF Giants must depend on the kids to contend in ’12 

click to enlarge Rising star: Brandon Belt showed glimpses of his power potential in 2011 and should play a bigger role with the Giants in 2012. (Getty Images file photo) - RISING STAR: BRANDON BELT SHOWED GLIMPSES OF HIS POWER POTENTIAL IN 2011 AND SHOULD PLAY A BIGGER ROLE WITH THE GIANTS IN 2012. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • Rising star: Brandon Belt showed glimpses of his power potential in 2011 and should play a bigger role with the Giants in 2012. (Getty Images file photo)
  • Rising star: Brandon Belt showed glimpses of his power potential in 2011 and should play a bigger role with the Giants in 2012. (Getty Images file photo)

The first thing the Giants have to realize as they look forward to 2012 is that they can’t replicate 2010, when they got big contributions from aging veterans. They’re going to have to look more at — gasp — younger players.

One of them, Gary Brown, played at San Jose this last season and had a sensational year, hitting .336 with a .409 on-base percentage, stealing 53 bases and hitting for some power, too, with 34 doubles, 13 triples and 14 home runs, while playing a good defensive center field.

That doesn’t mean manager Bruce Bochy should give up on Andres Torres, who played such an important part in the 2010 championship before injuries kept him from ever getting going this year. If Torres can return to his 2010 form, he should start, but the reality is that he’ll be 34, an age when veteran players slide and get injured often. (See Mark DeRosa and Freddy Sanchez.)

Brown is only 23 and has had just slightly more than one year of minor league ball, but if he can make the jump, he’d fit a big hole for the Giants as the center fielder and leadoff hitter who could start rallies by stealing a base — much as Torres did in 2010.

There is no reason for the Giants to bring back DeRosa or Pat Burrell, who should retire before he does further damage to his foot.

They’ll probably have to bring back Jeff Keppinger because they can’t count on Sanchez staying healthy after a three-season stretch in which he played 118, 118 and 60 games. He’ll be 34 at the start of next season and the chances that he’ll be able to stay healthy are, well, nonexistent.

They’re stuck with Aubrey Huff for another year because Brian Sabean foolishly signed him to a two-year contract at $11 million a year, despite every indication from his past that Huff’s 2010 year was an aberration.

But Bochy should not let his loyalty to Huff for his 2010 performance blind him to the fact that he’s a liability now. He has two young players, Brandon Belt and Brett Pill, he should take a look at; Pill’s strictly a first baseman, but Belt can play the outfield, too. Belt is five years younger than Pill, which makes him a better long-term possibility.

Orlando Cabrera surely will be gone next season. I’m sure Sabean would love to bring in another veteran shortstop who’s probably past his prime — Jimmy Rollins — but I have doubts the Giants will be able to afford any costly free agents because of Sabean’s past excesses: The Giants will be paying a combined $41 million next year to Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Huff, with almost nothing to show for it.

That should teach the Giants a lesson, and I think it has. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval will be returning next year and, if they’re joined by Belt and Brown as starters, that would give the Giants four starters age 25 or under, and shortstop Brandon Crawford could make five. If so, we’ll be able to look back at 2012 as the year when youth was finally served with the Giants.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at glenndickey36@gmail.com.

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