Spoiler alert: Billy Hamilton is fast. He is a strange kind of fast though, because he didn’t look as fast as I had anticipated. In fact, Terrance Gore, High-A outfielder for the Kansas City Royals, looked faster when I saw him a couple days ago. Not sure if it was the difference of a day game versus a night game, or a minor league field versus a big league field, or simply because Billy Hamilton just makes it look so easy to be so fast.
I say he didn’t look as fast as I expected him too, but in reality he was every bit as fast, if not faster, it just showed in a different part of his game than I expected. Where his speed played up the most on Friday night was not on the base paths, but in center field. Hamilton plays quite shallow, but showed good reaction to the ball off the bat, allowing him to get back to catch well hit balls all the way to the warning track. Due to Hamilton’s shallow starting position, the Cincinnati Reds corner outfielders play deeper than typical left and right fielders. There was a fly ball into shallow left field that, off the bat, seemed like it would be one of those routine fly outs where the left fielder is still in a pretty quick jog in as he makes the grab, but that is not at all what happened. Instead, the left fielder was jogging slowly, and Billy Hamilton was under the ball that was directly over the shortstop’s head, but too deep for Zach Cosart to get to. A center fielder had no business getting to that ball, but there was Hamilton, making the grab with ease.
At the plate, Hamilton is clearly more comfortable from the right side of the plate than the left, with his lone hit of the night coming from the right side on a sharp line drive into center, where he rounded first base almost halfway to second. He is clearly aggressive on the bases and will force some hands, I do worry a bit for what Hamilton’s base stealing will mean for Brandon Phillips.
When Hamilton was on first, he looked over to the third base coach and asked for the signs again, and got the single most obvious sign I have ever seen. The coach put his hands up, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured his arms toward second base. It was clear he was essentially saying, “what do you want me to say, if you want second, go take it, I am not stopping you.” Where this could have an impact on Phillips this year is if that is a common stance the Reds have. If Hamilton is simply given carte blanche to steal whenever he pleases, it could cause Phillips to adjust his approach at the plate. When the pitcher is beginning his delivery, is Phillips going to give a brief glance toward first to see if Hamilton is off? If he does, and the pitcher puts a fastball on the outside half of the plate, will Phillips swing, or let Hamilton take the base? This could force Phillips to become a slightly more patient hitter, but it could also lead to him laying off the best pitch he will see in the at-bat. Either way, Phillips should see more fastballs this year, which could lead to a bit of a spike in his power production.