While most players these days are in search of the long ball, Billy Hamilton is not. Hamilton is often slapping the ball around, and is happy with a single. Then, he takes his lead, and most people know what is about to happen. He knows he’s not the biggest guy, but it’s sometimes the size of fight in the dog, rather than the size of the dog in the fight. As he takes his secondary lead, and is off in the blink of an eye, it’s a good bet that he’ll be in ahead of the tag. Let’s take a deeper look at this speed demon and analyze his timetable for hitting The Show.
His Speed: Billy Hamilton was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Taylorsville (MS) High School. Since then, he has swiped 296 bases in 356 games. Speed is in fact the biggest aspect of Hamilton’s game. The stolen base is certainly not a rarity in baseball, but triple-digit steals aren’t common. Not since the likes of Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman, has there been such a prolific base stealer. It’s exciting to watch Hamilton, because he may be the next Coleman or Henderson. That’s not to say that he will break the all-time stolen base record, but when he gets called up next year (barring some crazy circumstance), it will have been over 25 years since a 100 steal campaign by a big leaguer.
This year alone, Billy Hamilton has 131 steals between Single A Bakersfield and Double A Pensacola. That’s just 7 short of the major-league record set by Hugh Nicol in 1887 by the Cincinnati Red Stockings. It’s pretty incredible to think that the next big speedster will be playing for the same team, just under a slightly different moniker.
Furthermore, Hamilton is in need of just 14 steals over his team’s remaining 24 games to match the all-time minor league record set by former St. Louis Cardinals great Vince Coleman in 1983. That’s very doable, considering the fact that Billy Hamilton has been known to steal multiple bases in a game. What is even more incredible to me is the fact that people know Hamilton is going to steal, and they still can’t stop him.
His Hitting: After the 2009 season, I’m sure the Reds were scratching their heads about how to get the 18 year old Hamilton to have more plate discipline. Though he only played in 43 games after being drafted, Billy Hamilton struck out 47 times, and had a paltry .253 OBP. The Reds were able to take a deep sigh of relief the next season, when Hamilton hit .318, with a .383 OBP and 48 thefts. The last 3 seasons, he has maintained an average near .300, with an overall average of .287 in 4 seasons.
His 160 walks in 356 games is nothing impressive, but his OBP is steadily improving. He will have to cut down on his strikeouts, as he averages 0.92 per game. No one is complaining about what he does when he’s on base though. My thoughts are that if he can somehow add some beef to his frame (6’1″ 160 currently), some of those dribblers and infield hits will turn into gappers.
His Defense: Reports were rampant for some time that there was a possible position move in store for Billy Hamilton because of struggles at manning the shortstop position. A .936 Fielding Percentage over the last two seasons is definitely a red flag, and that will need to improve if he hopes to be a decent defender. While it shouldn’t deter the Reds from calling him up, it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence, and has to be in the back of their minds.
My Projected Call-Up Date: I believe that early next year, Hamilton will hit Triple-A ball and showcase his speed there for a few months before a call-up just after the All-Star Break.
Overall Outlook: It is Hamilton’s speed that will carry him to the majors. His bat will get on track, and he will be a fine major leaguer. I’m hoping that his defense takes shape, and that he can truly be a solid shortstop. Watch out for the speed machine for years to come. He could very well end up in the same conversation with Rickey Henderson and the other stolen base greats.