I enjoy writing about baseball. I love writing national stories, like the one I wrote about that fraud Ryan Braun. And I’ll write many of them during the season. But I also love writing about my hometown team. I’ve been following the San Francisco Giants closely since 1983. Every month or so, I’m going to make sure to write about the Giants here, but it’s not just going to be me. I’m going to feature some of the smartest Giants fans I know.

I sent out some questions last week to four people whose baseball opinions I highly value. They emailed me back their responses. I’ll add my thoughts at the end. This is the SF Giants Heat Check.

1. Who is the one young player you have your eye on during Spring Training and why?

@ButchHusky (http://www.butchhusky.com): Brandon Crawford. Most eyes may be on the other Brandon, but the Professor’s been given the keys to the most critical defensive position other than catcher, provided he can hit a lick. He’s shown flashes of batted brilliance in the minors and so far during Spring Training, but his ability to translate that to regular season success could swing the fortunes of the Giants formerly anemic offense. And who wants to see Ryan Theriot at short, anyway?

@DRey2531: I looked through the “young” players on the roster and the only one I can think of is Brandon Crawford. His glove needs to be perfect and he needs to show some improvement (at the plate) or he’ll never make it as an everyday player.

@themarywalton: The player I have my eye on this spring is Brandon Crawford. Bochy has given Crawford his vote of confidence by suggesting he will be the opening day shortstop. While his offense has been a concern during his time in the minors and his short stint in the majors last year, his defense is solid and he will no doubt save runs for a pitching staff that has been hard-up for runs. Posey’s ability to hit near the top of the order leaves the 8-hole open for Crawford and eases the burden of having to be a run producer. What I am looking for from Crawford this spring are solid at-bats where he makes opposing pitching staffs work hard to get him out. In addition, I’d like to see him flatten out his swing a bit and hit for average as he started to do last September.

@RealStephenMar: Should Posey be the first baseman of the future, I’m curious to see if Sanchez can be what Posey was projected to be: an above average defensive catcher with an above average bat.

GG: I definitely think Crawford is important to the team’s success this year, but I still have my eye on Brandon Belt. Belt can be a legitimate run producer, but Bochy will have to be creative in using him since he’s set on letting Aubrey Huff play himself out of first base. It should be a luxury to have Belt in there, but he seemed to struggle last year when he was yo-yo’d, though it’s hard to blame him since his playing time was inconsistent. I’d love to see him get a true shot there, but I’ll save my piece for the next question.

2. If you had any say, how would you handle the Aubrey Huff/Brandon Belt issue?

@ButchHusky: Unlike a lot of Giants fanboys [Or fangirls Ed.], I subscribe to Bochy logic. Last year, Huff was bad. I mean he was terrible. I mean he was an embarrassment. But Brandon Belt looked like a kid stuck in the deep end of the pool before he learned how to tread water. So where does one put their faith? Bottom line, Huff’s the accomplished vet who led us to glory in 2010. Belt still has a lot to prove. First base goes to the Thong, but you know Bochy will mix and match like the great baseball sommelier he is.

@DRey2531: With the amount of money they’re paying Huff, you have to give him the opportunity to do well. I’d put Belt in LF. I think Huff will do well in a contract year. The most important thing is to NOT re-sign Huff if/when he does well.

@themarywalton: I’m sure everyone is aware of the ‘Aubrey Huff’ phenomenon. He has traditionally been an every-other-year guy and his numbers and swing this short spring are indicators that this pattern will not be broken. His $11 million price tag for 2012 makes this decision pretty easy from a business standpoint. Huff has to start at 1B. Belt is once again making a case for himself in Scottsdale, but benching an $11 million player is out of the question. I would start Huff but keep him on a very short leash. I would like to see Belt make the 25-man roster and play LF and 1B as needed although this may be difficult with Posey inevitably splitting some time at 1B with Huff. He may be better served in the long run spending another year down in Fresno. Remember, kids. Huff’s contract is up after this year and Belt will soon have a home at first.

@RealStephenMar: I would make Belt the starting 1B and Huff ride the pine. Having a decent hitting bench has been one of the Giants weaknesses since the 2002 Pennant team.

GG: I’d start Belt and play him every day, or at least 5 times a week. I know that’s not how it’s going to happen, but it’s how I’d do it. Huff can get a couple starts a week in the outfield against right-handers and get one start a week at first to spell Belt. I think many Giants fans believe that Huff will return to his 2010 form. I’d hope he returns to his 2010 first half form because his power numbers dropped big-time during the second half. I’d bet he’s closer to late 2010 and 2011 than he is to his brilliant early 2010 self.

3. What do you think of the new wildcard format?

@ButchHusky: I hate it. And I hated the wild card when it was first introduced. To me, baseball is unique among major American pro sports because the regular season actually matters. Teams aren’t resting players for the playoffs in August. The race for a modicum of spots goes down to the wire, and it (usually) takes 90 wins to get to October. Compare that with the 16-team formats in the NBA and NHL — which pretty much invite sub-.500 teams into the postseason. Baseball rewards sustained success, and that’s part of what makes it great.

@DRey2531: I don’t like it. The playoff system is fine already. I think this is an East Coast bias thing to try to keep New York and Boston in the playoffs for TV ratings purposes. This doesn’t help the game. It will add too many “What If” scenarios that will give every one a headache when September comes around.

@themarywalton: I think it is unnecessary but knew it was inevitable. I think a 1 game playoff is unfair and would like to see a best of 3 series. I also think MLB should have waited to implement it until next year as the low seeds in the LDS will now have the advantage with the 2-3 format.

@RealStephenMar: I would enjoy the new wildcard format more if MLB eliminated the need for divisional games and had more of a balanced schedule. Another idea would be if MLB reduced games to 150 a season and had a best-of-3 series with the two “wildcard” teams. That would be more fair and entertaining than a 1 game sudden death game playoff.

GG: Like my fellow Giants fans above me, I don’t like it either. It further bastardizes the sport. For whatever reason, sports are trying to get closer and closer to March Madness. I know people enjoy it, but the single elimination style is possibly the worst way to determine who is better. The way to do that is how they’ve always done it. Who is better over the long haul? That determines a champion. What’s next, the DH in the National League? Oh hell.

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