Even Without Ludwick, No Reason for Reds to Rush Billy Hamilton

Almost as soon as news broke in Cincinnati Monday night, you could hear the fans begin to murmur. Ryan Ludwick, starting left fielder for the Cincinnati Reds, had dislocated his shoulder, an injury that will require surgery to repair. He’s expected out until at least mid-July.

C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer caught up with Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty to discuss the next steps for the Reds and while he didn’t come out and say it, it sure doesn’t sound like Cincinnati’s speedy center field prospect, Billy Hamilton, will be in the mix to replace Ludwick.

Jocketty said Tuesday afternoon that no decision had been made and he was still debating between “two or three guys,” for the spot.

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One thing that has been decided is that Shin-Soo Choo will stay in center field. Jocketty said there had been no consideration of moving Choo to left field.

Hamilton was the talk of the Futures Game in 2012. Image: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In all likelihood, Dusty Baker‘s bunch will use Chris Heisey in a starting role and probably in left field, though you have to question the logic of that move. Choo had played all of 83 career innings in center field prior to this season and misplayed a ball late in the game in the season opener versus the Angels. I understand wanting to get Choo more acclimated to center field, but the Reds added him for his bat, not his glove. If Ludwick is going to be out til the All-Star break at best, the ballclub would be best served by shifting Choo to left and using Heisey in center.

Because the Reds already have Heisey and Xavier Paul on the roster, whomever they bring up to fill Ludwick’s roster spot is probably looking at reserve duty. For that reason in particular, don’t expect to see Hamilton’s name on the transaction wire when Jocketty’s club announces the roster move prior to the resumption of their series with Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Instead, Rosecrans offered a couple of intriguing names as potential fill-ins; Derrick Robinson and Denis Phipps, who were the final two outfielders cut from the Spring Training roster. Rosecrans notes that neither is on the club’s 40-man, but the Reds’ roster currently sits at 39, so adding a player won’t be an issue. They could also look outside the organization for a player like Casper Wells, who was recently DFA’d by the Seattle Mariners.

Hamilton was ranked as the 24th-best prospect in baseball by this site coming into the year and has been ranked as high as 11th by some major outlets. He made a name for himself in 2012 by setting a new record with 155 stolen bases in a season, and he did so while posting a stellar .311/.410/.420 line across more than 600 plate appearances between Advanced-A and Double-A.

Like Choo, however, Hamilton is only just learning the center field position after having spent his entire professional career as a shortstop prior to this season. He made major strides at the plate in 2012, but there is concern as to whether or not he can handle Triple-A pitching this year, let alone facing big league competition.

If Hamilton can maintain a high contact rate and show a good enough eye to keep his on base percentage high, his speed will more than play in the Show. He’s still just 22 until September and even if his bat is read now, and I don’t think it is, he absolutely needs to learn how to play the outfield before stepping into a big league lineup. If this were September and the Reds needed a guy to pinch-run with expanded rosters, sure, bring Hamilton up and turn him loose. But otherwise, he needs an opportunity to play everyday and the Reds aren’t in a position to carry a player on the roster who isn’t ready to help them compete.

The Choo trade only made sense for the Reds because Hamilton was viewed as being a year away. An injury to their left fielder shouldn’t change that assessment. Choo is a Scott Boras client, an agent notorious for taking his players to free agency and for commanding top dollar during that process, so the likelihood that Choo comes back to the Reds in 2014 is almost nil. Ludwick was given a two-year deal and right fielder Jay Bruce is going to be around a while as well. In other words, the path is clear for Hamilton to play in center field. Just, not until next season.

For the sake of Hamilton’s development and for the sake of Cincinnati’s playoff chances this year, the Reds would do well to wait until then.

Topics: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo

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