Over the past year I have written more than 170 articles for Blog Red Machine detailing stories that I felt Reds fans might find interesting, thought provoking and informational. I do not know if I have been successful in this endeavor, but it has been an enjoyable diversion. It occurred to me that one subject/individual stands alone – eclipsing all others, 35 times I have discussed Billy Hamilton. Sometimes in passing, often as the focus. I admit Billy is one of a very select group of athletes that can capture my attention and send my adrenaline racing.
I look back over the years and remember each of those players: Joe Morgan in the BRM years, Davey Concepcion in the field, George Foster, Tom Seaver, Eric Davis, Tom Browning, Rob Dibble and the rest of the Nasty Boys, Joey Votto and Aroldis Chapman. Each brought a unique skill set that captivated me. When I started writing for blogredmachine.com, I knew that Dayton had a young prospect gifted with speed, but until I visited my parents in the Dayton area and attended two Dragons games I truly had no concept of how he affects a game. It is hard to say who is more distracted; the opposing manager, the pitcher, or the catcher. Each one must be filled with abject terror every time he reaches base, because no one wants to look bad and dealing with Billy can be embarrassing. If I were a manager I would be tempted to fine any pitcher who walked or hit him, allowing him to freely reach base.
I want to spend a little time today looking at how Billy can change a game before moving to the historic possibilities that seem to be in reach this season. Billy has 67 stolen bases in 56 games. In the first 8 games of the 2012 season Billy went 9-29 scoring 8 runs with 3 doubles, 1 home run, 6 RBI, a hit by pitch and 5 walks. He did have 6 strikeouts and a caught stealing to go with his 7 stolen bases. This does not tell the whole story though. In addition he reached base once on an error, he moved up 2 bases on additional errors and there were 4 wild pitches while he was on base. Now call it a coincidence but I see an emerging pattern of distraction causing players to rush what they are doing to prevent the inevitable. As the season progresses I will add data to this list. The wild pitch number really caught my attention considering this was just an 8 game sample.
The Bakersfield Blaze have played in 59 games so far in 2012 and still have 81 games left to play. If Billy starts in 75 more games this year and steals at his current rate he will record a season total of approximately 157 stolen bases. That number may not mean a lot to you until you consider the most stolen bases ever recorded at any level of baseball from MLB through the minor leagues happened in 1983 when Vince Coleman stole 145 bases. As I mentioned at the outset, Billy is crossing into historic territory this year. Opposing teams know that every time he reaches base he is planning to steal; remember during the Reds futures game at the start of the season Devin Mesoraco threw Billy out on a pitchout…only because Billy overslid Second Base.
Looking across all of minor league baseball also serves as a nice way to put Billy’s accomplishments in perspective. I compiled a list of the top two stolen base leaders in every League from low A through AAA. The truth is Billy is in a class by himself.
|Billy Hamilton||Bakersfield||Cincinnati||California||A Adv||56||67||13||51|
|Freddy Guzman||Ciudad del Carmen||Mexican||AAA||60||48||5||42|
|Rico Noel||Lake Elsinore||San Diego||California||A Adv||59||39||6||35|
|Delino DeShields Jr.||Lexington||Houston||South Atlantic||A||55||37||5||42|
|Keenyn Walker||Kannapolis||Chicago (A)||South Atlantic||A||55||32||8||33|
|Gilberto Mejia||Ciudad del Carmen||Mexican||AAA||67||29||12||46|
|Anthony Gose||Las Vegas||Toronto||Pacific Coast||AAA||58||24||5||51|
|James Baldwin||Great Lakes||Los Angeles (N)||MidWest||A||43||23||2||22|
|Abraham Almonte||Trenton||New York (A)||Eastern||AA||54||22||5||33|
|Tyler Saladino||Birmingham||Chicago (A)||Southern||AA||56||22||2||36|
|Jean Segura||Arkansas||Los Angeles (A)||Texas||AA||56||22||7||29|
|Jonathan Villar||Corpus Christi||Houston||Texas||AA||54||22||5||29|
|Reggie Keen||Brevard County||Milwaukee||Florida State||A Adv||53||19||10||18|
|Matthew Szczur||Daytona||Chicago (N)||Florida State||A Adv||48||19||7||43|
|Nick Ahmed||Lynchburg||Atlanta||Carolina||A Adv||55||18||6||38|
|Jake Elmore||Reno||Arizona||Pacific Coast||AAA||51||18||4||52|
|Blake Kelso||Potomac||Washington||Carolina||A Adv||49||18||2||29|
You will note the runs scored totals as well. It does not matter how many bases you steal if runs are not scored and the only players on this list to approach Hamilton’s numbers are the two Pacific Coast League leaders, Anthony Gose and Jake Elmore. It is significant to note that Elmore is batting an astounding .400 on the season so look for him to reach Arizona soon.
I did include Kristopher Negron, late of the Louisville Bats and just added to the Cincinnati Reds roster. Negron did not qualifyfor this list as he fell third in the International League in Stolen Bases, but given the offensive struggles Louisville has had this season, I figured any positive focus is better than none at all.
Speed is the one tool that cannot be taught and Billy Hamilton is blessed with it in abundance. This tool is coveted in baseball and my hope is that the Reds will benefit directly from his gift rather than trade it to the highest bidder. Players who generate electricity are hard to come by in baseball and Billy Hamilton is like Hoover Dam.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz
Tags: Abraham Almonte Anthony Gose Aroldis Chapman Bakersfield Blaze Billy Hamilton Cincinnati Reds Dave Concepcion Delino DeShields Jr. Devin Mesoraco Eric Davis Francisco Martinez George Foster Gilberto Mejia Jake Elmore James Baldwin Jean Sequra Jeff Kobernus Joe Berti Joe Morgan Joey Votto Jonathan Villar Keenyn Walker Kristopher Negron Louisville Bats Luis Durango Matthew Szczur Nick Ahmed Quintin Berry Rico Noel Rob Dibble Tom Browning Tom Seaver Tyler Saladino Vince Coleman