Can Billy Hamilton return to pre-injury form?

Can Billy Hamilton return to pre-injury form?
Posted at 5:35 AM, Mar 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 05:35:34-04

Longtime Reds beat writer John Fay will break down nine key questions about the Reds. A story addressing one of the questions runs each day between now and Opening Day.

Question 2: Is Billy Hamilton healthy and will he hit?

CINCINNATI -- Billy Hamilton’s answer about what he had to do this season has been clear. 

“I know I’ve got to be better,” he has said when asked.

Hamilton’s second season as a Red was not as good as his first. He hit .226 with a .274 on-base percentage last year after hitting .250 with a .292 on-base as a rookie.

Hamilton improved his base-stealing percentage considerably. He stole 57 bases in 65 attempts after stealing 56 in 77 attempts in 2014. His defense -- Gold Glove-caliber -- and his speed make Hamilton a valuable commodity. But you can’t have a guy hit .226 in the leadoff spot.

Given the Reds’ position -- i.e., rebuilding -- they will give Hamilton every chance to succeed. His defense and his threat as a base-runner are so valuable; if he can hit near the league average, he’s a player you want in the lineup -- near the top.

Where in the Lineup

The Reds will try him in the leadoff spot to start.

"Is he a leadoff man or is he better suited to hitting someplace in the lineup?" Reds manager Bryan Price asked early in spring training. "That to me is the only question that's left to answer. He is a difference-making defender. And you have those middle-of-the-diamond guys that can defend. Historically, baseball has looked at the corner infield and corner outfield spots to provide the bulk of the offense.

“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.”

But it’s going to be difficult for Hamilton to improve his overall game in 2016 because of what he’s dealt with this off-season.

Altered Off-Season Plan

The Reds had an off-season plan for Hamilton well before last season ended. Hamilton would go to Southern California to work with an instructor that the Reds chose not to reveal. 

The plan never came off. The instructor that the Reds had kept unnamed was Rod Carew. Carew had medical problems and could not do it. Even if had been able to, Hamilton would not have been able to do much more than listen to what the former batting champ had to say. 

The shoulder injury that ended Hamilton’s season on Sept. 24 and required surgery on Sept. 29.

Instead, Hamilton worked with Billy Hatcher in Cincinnati. Hatcher mainly worked on restoring Hamilton’s confidence after the rough year last season. 

“I know Billy is going to be better this year,” Hatcher said.

The injuries have kept Hamilton from playing a normal schedule this spring. He did not play in the field until mid-March because he was having pain while throwing the ball from center field.

He was hitting .161 with a .188 on-base percentage through Sunday this spring. Obviously, the Reds need more than that from Hamilton this year.

He thinks he can be better.

“It’s all about the season,” he said early in camp. “What I need to do to get myself ready for Opening Day. 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. 

“That’s the main thing. I understand what they’re doing for me. I’m here working hard every day.”