Life is good right now for Cincinnati Reds fans. They’ve seen their team make two consecutive postseason runs and there’s a good chance they’ll witness it again for a third straight season in 2014. But despite the bevvy of talent the Reds have throughout the lineup and up-and-down the pitching staff, there’s still a big challenge for them in the National League Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates are partying like it’s 1992, the St. Louis Cardinals are coming off their 10th postseason appearance in the past 14 seasons, and the Chicago Cubs are looking on the brink of breaking out of their recent funk. Enter, Billy Hamilton . . . and when this guy enters, he does it at one speed — FAST.
Read up on Hamilton and the first thing you’ll see about him is his speed. This guy has wheels, and lots of them. Last season at AAA Louisville, he stole 75 bases. What’s even more impressive is that he did it in 123 games. Over 162, that would be 98.78 stolen bases. But wait, there’s more!! The year before, he swiped a combined 155 bases between A+ Bakersfield (104) and AA Pensacola (51)! And just in case anyone is ready to point out that these bases were not stolen at the major league level, I submit to you his 2013 call-up with the Reds. Hamilton played 13 games to begin his MLB career and stole 13 bases during that time. What’s even more impressive is that he did it after making just 22 plate appearances. There’s more than just stolen bases to Hamilton’s game, however.
In order to steal bases, there’s something even more important than speed. Just like one’s inability to get a hit while the bat is on their shoulder, you can’t steal a base if you haven’t gotten ON base. While there is still room for improvement (He struck out a lot at the AAA level last season), he’s generally been very good at getting on base.
In his 50 AA games, Hamilton reached base at a .406 clip. While his on-base numbers and batting average lowered a tick each time he moved up a level of play, he batted .368 and had a .429 OBP with Cincinnati to begin his big league career. Obviously it’s a small sample size, but it does provide evidence for his potential.
Defensively, he shows a lot of potential as well. Because of his speed, center field will likely be his main outfield spot. He was originally drafted as a shortstop, but he doesn’t quite flash the arm needed for the position. Add in his quickness, and it just makes sense that the Reds at least give him a look at a playing the outfield.
What the scouts are saying
Baseball America has Hamilton listed as Cincinnati’s #2 prospect in the organization. Baseball Prospect Nation gushes about his speed and speaks about his need to improve his on-base ability. (Side note — they still have him listed as a SS. Ignore that but pay attention to everything else.) Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus is a little more tentative in their assessment of Hamilton. Because of this, a lot eyes will be on at Hamilton this spring in Goodyear.
2014 Season prediction
Because last season’s sample at the MLB level was so small, it’s difficult to project anything astronomical for the 2009 2nd round draftee. However, I do see him having a solid spring training that will earn him the starting job in center field for the Reds. It’s plausible that he’ll play in at least 120 games and steal 50 bases. That number may seem low based on his past, but it hinges on his ability to get on base in the bigs and how many “green lights” manager Bryan Price will give him. I believe he’ll bat a respectable .260 and his OBP will be around .310.