CINCINNATI -- Looking for a reason to watch the Reds this season, despite all the dire forecasts and glum predictions?
I’ll give you two: Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza.
Putting two fast, athletic players at the top of the lineup gives the Reds a dimension few teams have in this era.
Hamilton’s base-running resume is well documented. He set an all-time professional record with 155 steals in the minors in 2012.
He’s stolen 56, 57 and 58 bases in his three full years in the big leagues. He alters games with speed and daring on the base paths. He’s scored from second on an infield hit. He’s turned a popup to short right into a sacrifice fly. And he changes the way pitchers deliver the ball to the plate on a nightly basis.
Peraza doesn’t have Hamilton’s base-stealing stats, although he did swipe 64 one year in single-A. His speed is just a tick below Hamilton's.
Reds manager Bryan Price toyed with the idea of splitting up the two in the lineup, but he opted to leave them one-two.
“It’s a nice lead-in for the rest of the lineup,” Price said.
The key will be getting Peraza to use his speed as effectively as Hamilton does.
Peraza stole 21 bases in 72 games last year, but he was caught 10 times. That’s not a great ratio.
Hamilton has improved his success rate greatly since his rookie year. He was caught a league-high 23 times in 2014. He’s been caught eight times each of the last two years. He was third in the majors in stolen-base percentage at 87.8 last year.
“It was a learning curve for Billy, and I think Jose is in the same place,” Price said. “You can’t just simply run into blind outs. In the same respect, I want Jose to have some of the freedom that Billy has so he can continue to learn his craft.
"Most of the time they are open to run. In the same respect, there are times I’ve got to shut it down, mostly when we’re getting good times from the opposing pitcher and we start running into outs we shouldn’t be running into.”
Hamilton counsels Peraza.
“Last year, he got a little scared after he got picked off,” Hamilton said. “I told him you can’t worry about getting picked off. It’s going to happen. I’d rather get picked off than try to steal when I'm leaning back toward the bag.
“These guys in the big leagues are good. You’re going to get thrown out if you don’t get a good jump.”
Hamilton and Peraza will get chances to run because Joey Votto, who sees more pitches than almost anyone in baseball, is hitting behind them.
Votto says hitting behind Hamilton affords him more protection than with anyone who's batted before him. Sometimes just the threat of running is enough.
“A lot of it has to do with knowledge and what you know and how to utilize the weaknesses of your opponent and exploit those,” Price said.
Hamilton said hitting in front of Peraza doesn’t really affect him. But when both are on, it gives a catcher a tough choice.
“When you double-steal, they usually throw to second because that’s the slower runner,” Hamilton said. “Jose isn’t slow, so they might not throw to second.”
If they do and the ball bounces, Hamilton is a good bet to score. That’s something to watch.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org