CINCINNATI - Imagine this: It's the bottom of the 9th, the Cincinnati Reds are tied with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Reds just picked up a 2-out single.
A pinch runner is called to replace whichever Red it was that got the hit in order to steal second. That pinch runner is Billy Hamilton, the Reds' prospect who set the record for stolen bases in the minor-leagues with 155 in 2012. With Hamilton's blazing speed, it's almost a sure thing he'll get to second base to set up a potential game-winning run, and maybe even third base to guarantee that run.
The excitement level at Great American Ball Park when Hamilton strolls to first base is equal to that of Aroldis Chapman jaunting in from the bullpen.
The pitcher checks over at first three times to start the next at-bat. He's read the scouting report on Hamilton's moves. Finally the pitcher leans in and starts toward the plate, and Hamilton jolts his body toward second base by flinging his left arm toward left field, churning his legs all the way.
The pitch gets in to the catcher, a strike looking, and the man behind the plate pops up to throw to second. The ball gets to the second baseman's glove just a foot above the ground, and Hamilton is already face down with his chest on the base, calling for time having beaten the throw by several steps.
The crowd goes wild, just like when the radar reads 100 mph on the scoreboard.
Okay, wake up, back to reality because Hamilton is not on the Reds roster, and while he was invited to Spring Training this week and would make a great bench player to support the Reds in specific situations like the above scenario, will he fit on the Reds' permanent roster for a full 162 games? Maybe not just yet.
For the 2012 Reds, there wasn't anyone on the roster that they could turn to and say "steal that base, whatever it takes." Drew Stubbs was fast, sure, but since his average hovered around .210 all season, it wasn't very often he got the opportunity to steal a base, and because the Reds needed him defensively, he was in the starting lineup more often than not, rendering him unavailable as a late-game pinch-runner.
With Hamilton, the Reds have that speedy option, but he's a different overall player. He had a batting average of .311 and an on-base percentage of .410 in the minor leagues in 2012, and where Stubbs' strides were long, Hamilton's feet are quick, allowing him to get better jumps than Stubbs.
The lingering concern about Hamilton is that he could become Drew Stubbs version 2.0.
Hamilton struck out 113 times in 132 games in 2012 in the minor leagues. That number isn't quite as alarming as Stubb's 166 strikeouts in 136 games in 2012, but if you consider that Hamilton is striking out that often against minor league pitching, it's hard to see those numbers improving when he gets to the next level. If Hamilton kept those numbers consistent in the majors as a full-time player, he would end up second on the team in strikeouts per game (Jay Bruce would be the leader based on his averages).
On the flip side, Hamilton drew 82 walks, almost double that of what Stubbs did in 2012 (42), but again, those base on balls are taken with a grain of salt having come from often wild minor league pitching.
It's also hard to give Hamilton a permanent spot on the roster when he doesn't offer much else other than his speed and his yet unproven in the majors potential of being a solid contact-hitter.
Hamilton's defense wouldn't be needed with Zach Cozart and Brandon Phillips in the middle-infield and several fully-capable backups in Jason Donald and Jack Hannahan, even less needed should the Reds decide to sign fellow Spring Training invitee and experienced middle-infielder Cesar Izturis. If the Reds were to try and convert Hamilton to be a more full-time outfielder, that would also be a busy depth chart with Chris Heisey and Xavier Paul ready to take over any one of the starting positions when Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo and Ryan Ludwick need rest.
And Hamilton doesn't bring anything other than a base-hit dynamic to the plate. He doesn't hit for power, slugging just two home runs last year on a .420 slugging percentage, and as a result he isn't much of an RBI guy either. But that may be just what the Reds need, considering the middle of their lineup is packed with RBI guys (Phillips, Votto, Bruce, Ludwick and Frazier).
Bottom line: Hamilton, at just 22 years of age, isn't ready for the majors, and frankly, the Reds can do without him just fine this go-round.
The Redlegs made a living on home runs and big hits when they were needed on the back of good pitching last year, and are poised to make a similar run this year with the addition of a more pure lead-off man in Choo. Hamilton could make a great leadoff guy one day down the road when he works on his eye at the plate and adds a little muscle, but the last thing the Reds want to do is rush him to the majors and not give him time to develop those skills other than his base-stealing ability, which is what could be said caused Stubbs to peak so early when he was called up to the Reds at just age 24.
Don't expect to see Hamilton on the regular season roster, but that September roster expansion might be the perfect fit for Billy the Kid to get some major league exposure.
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