SAN FRANCISCO -- With his broken left thumb wrapped in a bulky cast, Brandon Belt is taking a break from the popular "Brandon and Brandon" blog. A couple of veteran teammates have filled in with guest posts, but the Giants website might not need to look far to find a more permanent author, one who won't even require a URL change.
Brandon Hicks is tucked between Belt and co-author Brandon Crawford in the home clubhouse at AT&T Park, and the second baseman already has proved a capable fill-in.
The Giants have received nothing but two spring training at-bats from projected starter Marco Scutaro and have no timetable for his return. But thanks to Hicks -- who has seven homers -- they haven't missed a beat at second base. That's no surprise to those who saw the versatile infielder break into the majors.
"It's all about opportunity, and I don't feel like he got a lot of opportunities with (Atlanta)," said Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, a teammate of Hicks in the minors and majors. "The opportunity he has to go out there and play every night, he's not backing down from it. He's definitely making the most of the situation."
Heyward and Hicks were part of the same Braves draft class, the outfielder a first-round pick, the infielder a third-rounder. While Heyward rocketed to the big leagues, debuting at 20 years old, Hicks struggled to find consistency. The premium power showed early when Hicks hit 20 homers in less than 400 at-bats in 2008, but another trend held him back. He struck out in nearly a third of his minor league at-bats, and in brief cameos for the Braves in 2010 and 2011, Hicks continued to have contact issues.
Still, whether in the minors or major league batting practice, Hicks always showed a rare trait for a middle infielder.
"I remember the power," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, smiling and shaking his head. "I remember the power. If you make a mistake with him, he runs you out of the ballpark."
The A's claimed Hicks off waivers in 2012, and while he hit three homers and five doubles in 64 at-bats, he also struck out 31 times. Hicks spent the 2013 season in Triple-A for the New York Mets, where he impressed Giants scouts Stan Saleski and Matt Nerland, and then-Triple-A hitting coach Russ Morman. The scouting report was a familiar one.
"We liked his power," assistant general manager Bobby Evans said. "And ability to play multiple positions in the infield."
A nonroster invitee, Hicks was heavily blocked as camp opened this year, but he posted a .456 Cactus League on-base percentage and slugged .696. Outside the manager's office, Hicks was the most anonymous member of a group replacing Scutaro. But manager Bruce Bochy had seen enough to know that Hicks would soon vault past Joaquin Arias and Ehire Adrianza on the depth chart.
"As we ended spring training, I could see him getting a lot of time," Bochy said, touting Hicks' ability to drive in runs.
The Giants finished second-to-last in the majors in homers a year ago, with just four of the 107 coming from their second basemen. Hicks has easily surpassed that in 118 at-bats, and his blasts include a walk-off April 27 and a two-run blast off Clayton Kershaw on May 11 that sparked a comeback win.
"He's a guy that wants to be in big situations," Heyward said. "He's someone who is always going to be on point when you need to be on point."
Hicks has become a fixture, making 34 starts in large part because Bochy has encouraged Hicks to be himself and take advantage of his pop, even if the average (currently at .195) dips, and strikeouts pile up. Hicks will play as long as he produces, and thus far he has been a revelation. The 28-year-old ranks fifth in the league in walk percentage (14.1) and 13th in isolated power (.220), a measure of how well a player hits for extra bases. He has been the fifth-most-valuable second baseman (1.0 wins above replacement) in the National League, according to FanGraphs.com.
Most important, Hicks has been a steady defender after years of coaches trying to move him away from the middle of the field, thinking he was too big -- 6-foot-2, 215 pounds -- to handle the pivot. Hicks has made the routine plays (no errors in his past 27 games) and the spectacular (per ESPN Stats and Info, he ranks second in the majors with four assists from his knees, stomach or back). He has proved to be quick on a double play and strong enough to handle the long throws that come with the Giants' increased defensive shifting.
Scutaro struggled defensively after hurting his back last spring, but through the season's first seven weeks, Hicks ranks second at his position in defensive runs saved (four). Not bad for a player who wasn't supposed to be a second baseman.
"They always said I was too big for the middle of the field," he said. "I'm proving them wrong, I guess."
Giants (Madison Bumgarner (5-3) at Colorado (Franklin Morales 3-3), 5:40 p.m. CSNBA