Billy Hamilton has been one of the big stories this spring. He is exciting to watch. He brings a skillset to the field that hasn’t been seen in quite a long time. He plays outstanding defense with big time range. But the thing that stands out the most with Hamilton has been his approach at the plate. In the 2013 season Hamilton struggled with his plate approach, drawing just 40 walks and striking out 106 times. As I type this (midway through the game on Friday night against the Rangers), the center fielder has six walks and just three strikeouts. That is a big step in the right direction for Hamilton and something if he could carry forward somewhat (he clearly isn’t going to walk twice as often as he strikes out during the regular season), it will be huge for the Reds and the leadoff spot.
Jay Bruce has been around with the team for a while now and has had an OPS over .800 each of the last four seasons. While he has upped his walk rate the last two years, he is a guy who has had big strikeout totals to go along with solid walk rates. Here in 2014 spring training Bruce has 7 walks and 5 strikeouts. Alone that would seem good enough, but if we look at past history of spring training for the Cincinnati Reds right fielder we can see that he has never drawn more than 4 walks in any spring training until this season. He has nearly doubled his walk total in spring training and has less than half as many at bats since at 2008. With a new hitting coach taking over, perhaps this is a more patient Jay Bruce. Perhaps it is just a coincidence.
Chris Heisey has shown off the power so far in the spring. In 2011, the outfielder hit 18 home runs as a part time player. He hasn’t hit double digit home runs in any other season. Not surprising, the 2011 season was easily the best of his career overall as he posted a .797 OPS. Heisey has yet to draw a walk this spring and drawing walks has been an issue throughout his career, but if he has found his power stroke once again, it could be big for the Reds outfielder who will likely get plenty of time rotating around the outfield.
Trevor Bell has three years of big league experience, but it last came in the 2011 season. He spent most of the 2013 year in Double-A Pensacola with the Blue Wahoos for the Reds where he was dominant. This spring he has yet to allow a run in 4.2 innings where he has just one walk and eight strikeouts. A long shot to make the roster he has done everything he can to make it a difficult decision to send him to the minor leagues.
Pedro Beato, like Bell, has yet to allow a run this spring. He has some big league experience, racking up 89 innings over the last three seasons. In 5 shutout innings he has yet to allow a walk and has four strikeouts. Beato is new to the organization after spending time in the Orioles, Mets and Red Sox organizations in the past.
Spring training stats don’t mean much and there have been plenty of studies that have shown that few things from spring training do matter, but when guys are controlling the strikezone better than in the past, it does stand out as a possible change in skillset rather than just facing lower level competition.