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Reds Rookie Preview: Billy Hamilton
- Updated: February 14, 2014
By: Stephanie Deskins
Cincinnati Reds CF Billy Hamilton busted onto the scene in the second half of the 2013 season when he was brought in as a pinch runner. Before that, no one had ever heard of him before. After that, everyone knew his name. This past offseason, just after the Texas Rangers signed the Reds star center fielder Shin Soo Choo, GM Walt Jocketty announced that in the upcoming 2014 season Billy Hamilton would be the full time CF for Cincinnati.
Spring training has started but before the regular season begins there are a lot of fans that would like to know more about the fastest guy on the team. The 23 year old Mississippi native was actually a top NFL prospect at WR and turned down a scholarship from Mississippi State University. Before the 2011 season, Hamilton was ranked as the 50th best baseball prospect. During that season, he stole just over 100 bases. For the 2012 season he was ranked as the 48th top baseball prospect by Baseball America while the MLB had him ranked at 31st as well as the Reds second best prospect, just behind catcher Devin Mesoraco.
His last season with the Reds AAA team, the Louisville Bats, Hamilton stole 75 bases in 123 games. In September of 2013 he was called up to the Bigs and made his debut as a pinch runner for Ryan Ludwick against the St. Louis Cardinals. In that game, he stole second base off of Yadier Molina and scored on a Todd Frazier double. On September 18th he made his first start where he took over in CF from Choo in a 6-5 road win in Houston. His first major league hit came off of Astros pitcher Brad Peacock and landed as a double. Later in the game he got his first MLB RBI on a single that drove in Todd Frazier. The 13 inning game saw Hamilton at bat 5 times going 3 for 4 with 2 walks, 2 scored runs, 1 RBI and four stolen bases in four attempts. This made Hamilton the first player since 1920 to steal 4 bases in his major league debut. Hamilton’s first 10 times on base saw him steal 9 bases and score 6 runs. His first 13 attempts were successful before finally being thrown out on his 14th attempt.
The MLB’s league average for catchers logging caught steals is 28%. However, Yadier Molina and AJ Ellis are well above average and come in around 44%. Hamilton has stolen bases from both of them. However, Hamilton has only ever played 515 games between the minors and the big leagues with his game revolving around his speed. Scouting reports for the upcoming 2014 season on Hamilton show that he has a lightning quick first step and an innate ability to read pitchers as he begins each steal attempt. Many experts are saying that the 2014 season will see Hamilton with the first 100 stolen base year since 1987.
However, the old addage that you have to get on base before you can steal a base could very well limit Hamilton. Reports from the 2013 season show him struggling to be consistent with putting the ball into play. He shows a long swing from left to right and lunges on breaking balls. His right handed swing gives him nearly no leverage which will make him lack power on the balls he does hit. When bunting, he drops the barrel of the bat at odd angles that produce pop-ups and fouls.
Still, some are betting on Hamilton to take home 2014 Rookie of the Year due to his speed and his defensive abilities. If he can make contact, fans can expect to see an above average number of inside the park homeruns, triples and doubles. Replacing Choo is a big job for anyone to have handed to them but Hamilton is up to the task. He does not equate to Choo’s abilities but as he continues to improve his skill set he will become a major player in the future of the Reds. Experts say that fans can look forward to Hamilton reaching base around 184 times this season. This will give him around 162 opportunities for stolen bases considering the Reds hitting coaches have been working extensively with Hamilton at the plate to help him get on base so he can then steal the next base.