Reds Prospect on the Rise: Billy Hamilton is on the Verge of Greatness

Sunday May 13th, 2012

Photo Courtesy of Giants fan: Crystal Ramos

Sam Evans: Billy Hamilton is one of the most discussed players in the minor leagues. He might be the fastest player in baseball, but the rest of his game is far from finished. Reds fans probably won’t see Hamilton until at least late-2013, but he will be ready by that point to make an immediate impact in the majors. Let’s take a look at Hamilton’s tools and how they project in the future.

First of all, if you are unfamiliar with Billy Hamilton, then you’ve probably been hiding under a rock. If you are hiding under a rock, you should probably come out. Unless, of course, you have Bryce Harper’s haircut. Anyways, Billy Hamilton grew up in Mississippi and played football, basketball, and baseball in high school. Hamilton was drafted in the second round of the 2009 MLB Amateur draft by the Reds, and passed up a football scholarship to Mississippi State University. Hamilton stands six feet tall and weighs roughly 160 pounds. He is a switch-hitting shortstop who is currently playing for the Reds High-A affiliate, the Bakersfield Blaze.

Defense: Hamilton is an athlete first, baseball player later. That’s part of the reason why his defense is considerably behind the other assets of his game. Defense in baseball is not a skill that can be acquired by playing other sports. In his three years in the minors, Hamilton has been played only at shortstop. The Reds obviously want Hamilton at shortstop in the future, but that might never pan out. Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be that fast to play shortstop. The position relies more on agility, experience, and natural instincts. Finding an above-average defensive shortstop is very difficult and that’s why players like Gabriel Noriega get attention even if they can’t hit to save their lives.

Hamilton obviously has the athleticism to play shortstop, but he’s never had enough time to focus on it as a position. As a three-sport athlete in high school, Hamilton couldn’t have had very much time to focus on baseball, let alone his defense. Hamilton’s footwork isn’t very precise, but the main problem with Hamilton sticking at shortstop in the future is his arm strength.  How many times have we seen tremendous defensive shortstops such as Alexei Ramirez and Alcides Escobar make a strong throw to first despite having their body moving towards the opposite direction? In the majors, shortstops need to be able to make those kinds of plays. From what I’ve heard about Hamilton, scouts are worried whether he has enough arm strength to do that.

If Billy Hamilton doesn’t stick at shortstop, he can still be an All-Star for multiple years, just at a different position. The Reds could decide to move Hamilton to second base, where his arm wouldn’t be as necessary. Still, they recently locked up Brandon Phillips to a long-term deal, therefore blocking Hamilton for years to come (unless a future trade follows). The other option is center field. Hamilton’s speed and athleticism would be showcased by having to cover all the ground in center field. I could definitely see Hamilton playing center field in the future, but once again, his weak arm would be exposed. Personally, I think the Reds should continue to develop Hamilton as a shortstop. If they find he simply will be never be able to play there in the majors, then they should try him in outfield. Other outfielders have been just fine with weak arms, and Hamilton’s athleticism would allow him to cover a ton of ground.

Speed: Honestly, enough has been said about Hamilton’s speed. He’s not only the fastest player in the minors, but he’ll also be the fastest player in the majors when he gets there. And he’s not just fast. Hamilton is an outstanding base stealer. I feel bad for pitchers in the low levels of the minors that have to face Hamilton. If Hamilton puts the ball in play, he can either force the defense into making a bad play, or just outrun the throw to first. Once Hamilton is on base, he is unstoppable. Everyone in the stadium knows he’s trying to steal, and he’s still successful.  If Dusty Baker (or whoever is managing by the time Hamilton reaches Cincinnati) lets Hamilton steal when he wants, Hamilton has the chance to steal 100 bases or more per season in the sdhow.

In a world where humans are becoming more and more athletic, Billy Hamilton’s athleticism stands out. Even if none of his other skills pan out, Hamilton can still have a major league career in which he’d be used primarily as a pinch-runner. However, Hamilton won’t be able to rely on his speed as much once he gets older, so his other skills will be crucial for a lengthy major league career.

Hitting Ability: Like most elite base stealers, Hamilton is never going to be a hitter who sells out for power. He only has six homers in his four minor league seasons, and his small frame doesn’t suggest more are to come.  The good thing is that the other aspects of hitting have been coming along nicely for Hamilton. In particular, his plate discipline. In Hamilton’s first professional season, in 2009, he had a BB% of 6.2. In thirty games this year, Hamilton is walking 10.2% of the time. Also, his strikeout rates have significantly decreased since his first year in Rookie ball.

On the other hand, Hamilton is not a very advanced batter. He tends to leave the batter’s box too early, therefore sacrificing some of his power. Also, Hamilton has yet to prove that he can hit a good fastball. Hamilton is still going to have to make more contact in order to hit for average in the majors, but I think he has shown tremendous signs of progression. Even though he might not ever hit more than five homers in a season, I believe Hamilton has become a good enough contact hitter that it won’t matter.

Billy Hamilton is going to be a superstar from the second he reaches the majors. Fans are going to fall in love with his tremendous speed and athleticism. However, if Hamilton wants to remain in the majors once he naturally loses speed, he has a lot of work to do to improve his game. Overall, Hamilton’s speed is going to find him a place to play and he should be an above-average leadoff hitter for at least five MLB seasons. The next Rickey Henderson…or Joey Gathright? That is the million dollar that the Reds are asking themselves with their next top prospect. 

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter. (@RJA206)***

 

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About samevans87

I love writing, talking, watching, and playing baseball. I am a baseball writer for MLB Reports and Fish Stripes. "No game in the world is as tidy and dramatically neat as baseball, with cause and effect, crime and punishment, motive and result, so cleanly defined." -Paul Gallic

Posted on May 13, 2012, in On the Verge: MLB Prospects and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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