Billy Hamilton, the super-speedy prospect for the Cincinnati Reds was called up late in the season to play for the ball club. After months and months (and months and months) of hearing about this kid’s speed, Reds fans finally caught a glimpse of it when he made his major league debut.
He didn’t disappoint. All the kid did was steal bases. I didn’t think he would stop. He reminded me of Forest Gump, when he was playing for Alabama football and he kept running, even after he scored the touchdown. So why do I think he’s not the answer? I just told you. Because all he does is run.
Let me explain.
The 2013 season finally saw a true lead-off hitter in Shin-Soo Choo. After multiple seasons of Drew Stubbs whiffs, Choo stepped up to play a very good leadoff and centerfield. He understood his role on the team and he accepted it-all he did was get on base, whatever that meant.
The end of the season saw the (possible) end of Choo as a Red. He wants a multi-year contract with more money, and the Reds management is still debating the possibility. If Choo leaves, that leaves Cincinnati with Billy Hamilton. Most fans think that’s the point. I think it could be a nightmare.
While Hamilton is a very talented baseball player, I’m more concerned than excited about his role. Hamilton is known for his speed. But to get on base, that means you have to hit. Hamilton has very little experience hitting major league pitching. If Choo leaves, Hamilton will be thrusted into the lead-off role, which means he’ll be hitting everyday. There is no grace period.
But that much everyone knows. Let’s assume that Hamilton learns how to hit major league pitching. Let’s even assume that he learns pretty fast. That means he’ll be on base, which means he’ll be stealing. That’s good, right? Well, yeah. But is that what’s best for the team?
The Cincinnati Reds are not a running team. But it’s more complicated than that. Small ball is not a part of our philosophy. And it’s not as if adding Hamilton would be a nice little additive to the offense. It would mean changing the entire culture of the team.
Cincinnati did not seemed concerned with hit-and-runs last year. While, yes, players like Choo and Votto were on-base machines, that was not the goal of the team. When you have Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwig, and Jay Bruce in your line-up, OBP is not the highlight of the offense. But with Hamilton on your team all summer long, your whole thought process has to change.
There will be those who say “that’s the point.” After all, Jay Bruce has to have someone to drive in, right? Right. But Hamilton is not simply a guy who gets on base. If he learns to be an everyday hitter (which is hard to admit because he’s had one month of major league experience) the whole focus swings to a running game. And that’s not their forte.
Now sure, it would be nice if Hamilton had a little time to get used to playing in the big leagues. But he won’t. If Choo leaves, Hamilton is the guy. And Choo doesn’t want to be another “one-year” guy just to stay and play big brother to Billy. He wants, and rightfully so, a multi-year deal. He wants to be the guy in Cincinnati. And he should be.