This weeks Prospect Watch looks at the fastest pair of young legs in the Minor Leagues, Reds shortstop – Billy Hamilton.
Hamilton is an elite, top-tier talent and the No. 1 Prospect in the Reds organisation according to Baseball America’s 2013 rankings! With a game built almost entirely on his speed and his ability to run the bases, Billy Hamilton set a professional record in 2012 by swiping 155 bases in the Minor Leagues, split between Single-A and Double-A…
I’m just going to repeat that again for you… 155 total bases!!!
Wow!! That’s 10 more than Vince Coleman’s Minor League record of 145 set in 1983, and 25 more than Rickey Henderson’s Major League record!
Like I said… Wow!!
Hamilton was drafted out of Taylorsville High School, Mississippi, by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft. He was offered a football scholarship to Mississippi State – he played receiver and returned punts – but instead decided to pursue a career in baseball as it better suited his 6-foot tall, 160-pound frame.
During his early years in the Minors Hamilton relied purely on his speed to steal bases, but under the tutelage of Reds coaches, including former Reds outfielder, Eric Davis, he has developed his game to read pitchers more effectively in order to expand his skills as he progresses through each level.
Hamilton will start the 2013 season in Triple-A and has moved from shortstop to centre field to accommodate the young Zack Cozart, who is pencilled in at shortstop for the foreseeable future. Hamilton is expected to take over the centre-field role either late-2013 or at the start of the 2014 season, depending upon how quickly he develops at Triple-A.
In the fan-community SB Nation, John Sickels writing for Minor League Ball notes that Hamilton’s speed is “tremendous”, something that he uses to his advantage when running the bases. He goes on to say –
“Unlike many speedsters, he has good technique, and he’s so fast he often outruns any mistakes he does make. The rest of his hitting game is steadily coming along. He doesn’t have home run power and probably won’t develop much, but he has ability to lace the gaps, making him a threat for more doubles and triples as he matures. His plate discipline is gradually improving, and he’s done a good job reducing his strikeouts this year . He’s still learning finer points of the game like bunting, but he understands that anything he does to leverage his speed and get on base more frequently is to his advantage”
Some scouts have speculated that his base-stealing game could develop along the same lines as Rickey Henderson’s but concede that Hamilton will probably never develop the same power that Rickey exhibited throughout his career.
An MVP award at the California League All-Star game has led to an invite to the 2013 Future’s Game at Kansas City during this year’s All-Star Week-End!! And it doesn’t stop there…
The Reds have also been concentrating on developing Hamilton’s switch-hitting game, with the emphasis placed on positioning him on the left-hand side of the plate so that he has the added advantage of starting out closer to first base, thereby being able to beat out more infield ground balls due to his quickness!
Because of the way that Billy Hamilton’s speed impacts games he has started to garner national recognition, particularly when one of his inside-the-park home runs became a YouTube hit and he was clocked at just over 13 seconds covering the bases! He’s also a throwback to an era when base-stealing was an integral part of the game, when the scrappy ‘small-ball’ plays were seen as an important way of generating runs, as opposed to the modern game which has placed more emphasis on the long-ball.
The Bleacher Report makes an interesting observation when assessing how Hamilton’s speed might impact a game –
“It’s hard to measure the true impact of a speedster through stats. Total number of stolen bases does not quantify their impact. A players slugging percentage takes into account the total number of bases that a player gains throughout his at-bats. But, it does not, however, factor in stolen bases as a total base earned.
If Hamilton reaches base on a single and then steals second, he essentially got a double (or gained two total bases), right? If he steals third base after that, then he essentially has earned a triple, or recorded three total bases, correct?
So, if we added Hamilton’s stolen bases into factoring his slugging percentage it comes out to a whopping .745! Take the season that Joey Votto is having right now  and factor in his stolen bases and you get .675. When using SLUG as a measure of the amount of total bases gained by a player (with stolen bases factored in), you begin to see just how amazing the impact of Hamilton’s stolen bases.”
THAT is pretty impressive!! Based on that kind of production Hamilton could end up carrying your Fantasy team for a whole season in the SB category in most Roto Leagues!! Think about that for a while!!
As per usual we turn to Baseball Prospect Nation for a full scouting breakdown as of May 2012…
Body (6-0, 165): Very thin. May be shorter than listed height. Plus-plus athlete was a Division I football recruit as a wide receiver. Lacks strength throughout body and doesn’t have a lot of room to add strength in the coming years. Body fits his game. Classic burner body.
Hit: Drastic improvement since beginning of 2011 season. Previously showed inconsistent swing mechanics with a lot of hand movement and some delay getting the bat to the zone. Has quieted his setup and load, and now gets the bat to the zone much more consistently. Has average to a tick above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate. Improved ability for solid contact to all fields from both sides. Needs to stay within himself at the plate and not get power hungry. Approach can get overly aggressive at times and he needs to improve pitch recognition on secondary pitches. Will always run out extra hits which should help him hit for higher averages. Needs to improving bunting to fully develop the hitting ability his speed can support. Potential to push upwards of a .300 average in peak seasons and hit at the top of a big league order. Grade – 40/70
Power: Not part of his game. Lacks the strength and bat speed to drive the ball. Speed can generate extra-base hits but will not drive the ball to the gaps or over the fence consistently. Doubles and triples from speed will make power look a little better than grades. Grade (raw power) – 20/30
Arm: Fringy arm at shortstop. Can make most throws for the position but really has to get on it to make the tough/long throws. Loses accuracy and velocity on the run. Arm is stretched at shortstop but can play at second base and would play in the outfield. Grades ranged from 40 to 50 over the last two years, will likely settle with a fringe-average arm that could play up if he better learns how to use it in game situations. Grade – 40/50
Fielding: Speed gives him incredible range to both sides at shortstop. The same was true at second base in 2010. Lacks the instincts for shortstop and his actions aren’t fluid. Hands are below-average. Tendency to make some routine plays more difficult because of lack of instincts or not catching it cleanly and on the proper hop. Many scouts would prefer to see him in center field where his speed could be a defensive weapon. If at shortstop, would likely remain a below- to fringe-average defender at the position. Grade – 30/40 (shortstop)
Speed: Absolutely elite. Fastest player in the minor leagues, and it’s not even close. True burner that gets out of the box quickly and has even better top end speed. Can turn routine grounders into base hits. A threat to take over any game with his legs. Can scoring chances almost at will. Instincts have improved since signing and he now gets good jumps off both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Brilliant runner whose legs could have a 1980s style impact on the game. Grade – 80/80
Summation: Improvements with the bat look significant and maintainable. Potential .290+ hitter with enough on-base ability to wreak havoc on any opposing team. Could cause chaos at the top of the lineup. Needs more well-rounded and consistent small-ball game to help take further advantage of his speed. Elite, elite runner with instincts to let it play to the max. Shortstop defense is still rough and doesn’t project to improve arm strength, instincts or hands enough to stick there long term. Could be an impact defensive player in center field. Has the swagger of an elite player. Plays the game hard and works hard before/after games. Potential to impact the game on both sides of the ball thanks to elite speed.
Relative Risk: High. Everything rides on the sustainment of his hitting ability and the health of his legs. Any deterioration in either could destroy his prospect stock.
Future: Hamilton could see Double-A before the end of the 2012 season. Defensive development will be what holds him back and the development of his bat may force his move to second base or center field. Could be ready for big league action by 2014 and could hit atop the Reds order for quite a while.
Billy Hamilton is an incredibly exciting prospect. I’ve always had a soft spot for the speedy base-runners but appreciate that their shelf-life is often limited, and more often than not an abrupt leg or foot injury can put the stop to a once promising career.
Hamilton’s first Bowman card appeared as a Prospect in the 2009 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects set but his 2012 Bowman Chrome contains his autograph and will no doubt be the card everyone will be chasing!!
You can also pick up a number of base and parallel Hamilton cards in 2012 Bowman Platinum, but if you want to go for a cheaper alternative to the Bowman Chrome autograph then look no further than the 2012 Bowman Sterling Prospect auto, and obligatory refractor parallels!!
Along with his licensed Topps and Bowman releases there are a number of non-licensed releases that feature Hamilton that might be worth your time, including 2012 UD Goodwin Champions, 2010 Tristar Pursuit and 2009 Tri-Star Prospects.
A great player to watch out for with a rich life on baseball cards ahead of him!
In the next Prospect Watch – The next ‘Albert Pujols’ for the Cardinals??