GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Can Billy Hatcher help Billy Hamilton finally become the player fans hoped he would be?
Hamilton spent the offseason in the Cincinnati, working with Hatcher. Hamilton is confident that work will pay off.
“He’s one of those guys you want to learn from,” Hamilton said. “This offseason was one of the best for me. Working with Hatch every single day. It’s something I’m glad I had a chance to do. It was good. . . I think it’s going to be a really good year for me.”
Hatcher went a little further than that.
“He will be a lot better,” Hatcher said. “There’s no doubt in my mind. There will be a different Billy out there.”
Hamilton has a rough year at the plate in 2015. He hit .226 with a .274 on-base percentage and .289 slugging percentage after hitting .250/.292/.355 as a rookie.
But Hatcher thinks there’s an explanation for that. Hamilton hurt his hand in June and injured his shoulder in September.
“Billy was using a smaller bat, and he had gotten into bad habits when he hurt his hand and hurt his shoulder,” Hatcher said. “We’re trying to get him back to where he was before the injuries. You get into bad habits, trying to compensate and play.”
Hamilton, 25, played through the injuries for the most part. The right shoulder injury finally shut him down for good on Sept. 16. He ended up having shoulder surgery Sept. 29.
“They were there,” Hamilton said. “You can’t make excuses about how you’re playing. I was dealing with it. You’ve got to play through it if you want to be successful in this game.”
Even though the injuries might have been partially responsible for Hamilton’s struggles, it did not lessen the blow to his confidence. That’s what Hatcher sought to restore.
“I was just working with his confidence, getting him back to believing he can do the things he can do,” Hatcher said. “You start not having success, you lose a little confidence. We really worked to build that confidence back.”
Hamilton has seen some results of the offseason work.
“It’s still early,” Hamilton said. “We haven’t even started games yet. Batting practice has been going well. A couple of live BPs went really well. You’ve got to put in the full spring training.
“You learn what you can hit, what you can’t hit. You take what you learned in the offseason and bring it to the field. I’m looking forward to see how it goes.”
This is a big year for Hamilton. It will be his third year in the majors. That means he starts making big money next year. The Reds are giving him a full shot this year, although his hold on the leadoff spot is not ironclad.
"Is he a leadoff man or is he better suited to hitting someplace in the lineup?" Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That to me is the only question that's left to answer. He is a difference-making defender.
“For me, it's not a question of if he's a Major League player. It's if we're still defining him as a leadoff man. He'll hit leadoff with a lot of optimism from his coaching staff and front office that he can handle that job and continue to grow into it.”
Hamilton is secure enough in his position that he’s taking his time to make sure his shoulder is 100 percent.
“I’m here every day trying to get my shoulder better,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent. I can’t rush into it. I can’t so full speed, out of the gate in spring training. Spring training is what you do to get to the season.
“It’s all about the season. What I need to do to get myself ready for Opening Day, I’m willing to do. Me sitting out games (in spring) is going to be big. It will allow me to get here and do extra stuff in the training room to get myself healthy.”
John Fay is freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.