(Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

Hamilton Keeps On Thievin', But Road to Cincinnati More Than Steals


Some time ago it was announced the Cincinnati Reds top prospect Billy Hamilton would be heading to the Arizona Fall League. The mission/goal was to acclimate him to the new position of center field. He debuted in center during the October 12th game against the Phoenix Devil Dogs, his first in the AFL. Hamilton went 3-for-5.

All the while, Billy simply keeps doing what most say Billy does best: steal bases including a steal in that October 12 game. In his first six games for the Peoria Javelinas, Hamilton has amassed six steals.

But that’s about all most people outside the Reds organization, their fans and those that evaluate prospects know about Hamilton. The steals. There have been answers to other questions since Hamilton’s day of being selected in the second round (no. 57 overall) in the 2009 draft by the Reds.

When Hamilton first reported to the GCL Reds (now the Reds have a team in the AZL), he did struggle. He struggled with, well, a lot. His strikeout rate was high (26.6%) while his walk rate was low (6.2%). He could only muster a .205 batting average and .253 on-base percentage. He did manage to steal 14 bases in 43 games. In a 162-game MLB season, Hamilton would have roughly 52 thefts at that rate.

2010 arrived for Hamilton and he found himself in Billings. He was not placed in his natural position of shortstop. For 55 of his 68 starts, Hamilton was the Mustangs second baseman. Devin Lohman played the majority of the games at short. Rumblings were arising about a potential position switch then. Second base might be in Hamilton’s future more than shortstop.

Hamilton’s position change did not affect his offense. In fact, Hamilton ended the Billings campaign with a .318 batting average and .383 OBP. His strikeout rate dropped to 17.7% and he improved his walk rate to 8.9%. As I like to say, baby steps. And how could we forget the 48 steals in 57 chances.

Destination: Dayton, Ohio for 2011. Hamilton is now a member of the Low-A Reds affiliate Dayton Dragons. Manager Delino DeShields moves Hamilton back to short and puts Lohman at second. The move initially seemed to have a negative effect on Hamilton’s bat as he struggle early in the season. The strikeout bug had returned in earnest.

The Midwest League plays a split season. Hamilton did, not intentionally, as well. The plate discipline found its way back into his game. For all of 2011, Hamilton hit .278 and posted an OBP of .340. A 21.8% strikeout rate, which was much higher over the season’s first half, still seemed like Hamilton regressed. The walk rate only crept a little downward from that 8.9% of 2010 to 8.5% for 2011. Again, the stolen bases were the talk of his game as Billy had 103 in 135 games.

One aspect of Hamilton’s game that was apparent was that Hamilton may not be the slickest defender. He committed 39 errors; hence, the chatter for a position move grew louder. What some were not aware of was that Hamilton was getting to balls no other player could even think about getting.

A position change didn’t initially happen at the onset of this year either. Hamilton headed to Bakersfield as a member of the Reds High-A Bakersfield Blaze. He would be under the watchful eye of Reds Hall of Famer Ken Griffey. Or as some refer to him, Senior Griffey.

Before the season began, just after the season began, the Reds announced an extension with second baseman Brandon Phillips. The deal was for six years. Don’t know if that was part of Griffey’s reasoning, but that deal seemed to make it easier for Hamilton to stay at short, with his middle infield mate Lohman at second. This duo was becoming a common sight. Things would change.

With his numbers at Bakersfield displaying a marked improvement (.323 BA, .413 OBP, a walk rate up to 12.8%, a decrease in whiff rate to 17.9%, an absurd 104 steals in just 82 games), Hamilton was selected to play in the Futures Game, a showcase of top prospects from all levels of baseball. After his appearance, Hamilton was jettisoned to Pensacola and the beginning of his Double-A life.

Two things while Hamilton was a member of the Blue Wahoos. First was this…

Time estimate on his trip: 13.8 seconds. And yes, that is Eric Davis…

Then, the moment many waited for…

And with his record thievery, Hamilton was awarded many post-season accolades, most notable being selected as a Baseball America’s Minor League All-Star.

As for Hamilton’s time in Pensacola, he did see a jump in this strikeout rate (20.2%), but Billy also increased his walk rate (16.9%) and post the highest of such for his minor league career.

Yes, the error were still present as he made 31 for all of 2012. The Reds had Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius ahead of Hamilton on the organizational depth chart. Surely something would have to give.

And it did. With the news of Hamilton playing in the AFL, he would be shown the ropes of being an outfielder. While in Pensacola, Hamilton would take fly balls during batting practice, but he would not see the field under game conditions. Now as a member of the Javelinas, Hamilton is being provided the opportunity to make the switch permanent.

The steals are there, as previously mentioned. The batting average is at .300. He even owns an outfield assist. Four strikeouts and three walks in 23 PA. Scored four runs.

If Hamilton is to maintain a high OPS, it will because of his on-base percentage. Yes, you will also see the doubles and occasional triple as triples are not easy to come by at Great American Ball Park.

Wen you watch Hamilton, think back to the days when raw speed produced a fear factor in the minds of opponents.

That is what Hamilton brings. Imagine…

Hamilton leads off the game with a single or even a base on balls. He promptly steals second and he’s moved over to third by the #2 hitter taking the pitch and going the other way. (Remember those days?) Joey Votto strides to the plate and delivers one of his patented gappers to send Hamilton across the dish for an easy run.

Yes, those days will eventually arrive in Cincy.

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Tags: Billy Hamilton Cincinnati Reds