Reds Prospect Hamilton to Move to Center

It has been long speculated, but it is now a reality. Reds top prospect Billy Hamilton will be making the move from shortstop to center field. As MLB’com’s Mark Sheldon says, Hamilton will play center field, left field and shortstop during his time in the Arizona Fall League.

Maybe what got a lot of the chatter started about a potential positional change for Hamilton was revealed by Reds vice president of scouting and player development Bill Bavasi (via Sheldon).

“Most of the year, he took a round of BP in center field — at both Bakersfield and Pensacola,” Bavasi said. “We would just back everybody off so he could watch balls come off of the bat.”

As Bavasi also said, there are a number of reasons for the move. Two reasons are Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius. Those are good reasons. Bavasi continued to add that with Hamilton’s hard style of play, the move to center field would be a better position for Hamilton’s “body to take along with the base stealing”. All that sliding can make for a lot of wear and tear on the body especially when you consider that Hamilton stole 155 bases this season between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.

And then it should be no surprise that once this news was out, the throng citing that Drew Stubbs‘ job was in danger for 2013 began to emerge within the Twitterverse.

Hamilton during the 2012 All Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. (Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE)

Not so fast. Keep these three things in mind.

1. Hamilton has not played the outfield before. At least not at the minor league level. You can say the transition will be easy considering Hamilton’s speed and athletic ability, but you have to learn the nuances of the position. And they are different for left and center. I honestly don’t expect him to snag a 25-man roster spot out of spring training. Bavasi even said he’s not sure if Hamilton will start 2013 in Pensacola or Louisville.

2. Hamilton must prove he can continue his ability to hit for average. I know some believe batting average is an inane stat, but getting base hits does help you get on base. Did last time I checked. And the last three years have been good for Hamilton. In 2010 for Billings, Hamilton hit .318. For the Dayton Dragons in 2011, Hamilton started out slow, but caught fire in the second half of the season and ended his season with a batting average of .278. This past year, he hit .311 (.323 in Bakersfield and .286 in Pensacola).

3. Continue to improve upon his walk and strikeout rates. It has been the one aspect of Hamliton’s offensive game that has caught any bit of criticism. Here’s how it has gone since Billy has been in the Reds system.

2009 (GCL Reds) – BB%: 6.2, SO%: 26.6%
2010 (Billings) – BB%: 8.9%, SO%: 17.7%
2011 (Dayton) – BB%: 8.5%, 21.8%
2012 (Bakersfield) – BB%: 12.8%, SO%: 17.9%
2012 (Pensacola) – BB%: 16.9%, SO%: 20.2%

What helped Hamilton last season with his increased walk rate was his on-base percentage at both levels was over .400 (.413 for Bakersfield, .401 for Pensacola). The more he’s on base, the more he puts pressure on opposing defenses.

Of course, I hear you Stubbs detractors now: “Can’t be any worse with all the whiffs”. You would be correct, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no other center fielder within the Reds system that can play center field from a defensive standpoint as well as Stubbs. I actually think Stubbs is the best defensive outfielder the Reds have.  This coming from a Jay Bruce fan, too.

And we know how defense is a premium trait within this Reds regime.

As I have stated in the past, give Hamilton time.  Do not rush this guy.  With his speed alone, Hamilton has the ability to completely change the outlook of any inning.