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Will Billy Hamilton Hit, Get On Base in His Sophomore Season?

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Billy Hamilton is the most exciting player on the Reds roster, but will he ever get on base enough to support his other tools?

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Just gettin' ready...
Just gettin' ready...
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Biographical
Name: Billy R. Hamilton
DOB: September 9, 1990
Hometown: Taylorsville, MS

Tale of the Tape
Position: Center field
Bats: Both Throws: Right
Height: 6'0" Weight: 160lbs

Notes From the Past
Billy Hamilton was drafted by the Reds in the 2nd Round of the 2009 Amateur Draft. Hailing from the Taylorsville, MS, Billy was an All-Word three sport athlete in high school, being named all state in baseball, football, and basketball. Billy was offered a scholarship by Mississippi State to play wide receiver for the Bulldogs, but ultimately skipped out on being a football star to pursue a MLB career.

Scouting reports suggested what you'd think about a 18 year old, 150lbs player: incredibly raw. But, the athleticism was so eye-popping that it was a risk the Reds brass felt needed to be taken. From the beginning he was projected to be an outfielder, not always seeming natural at shortstop. The bat speed and strength were there from the beginning, the issue was always with mechanics. Scouts noted huge holes in his swing from day one, which you would assume to be the case with an athlete like Hamilton. You can read the entire scouting report (and watch a scouting video) from MLB.com, but here's my favorite part:

Athleticism off the charts. All the potential tools are there, if a bit raw. Crude offensive approach makes some worry about his ability to hit at the next level. Hasn't been exposed to too much top-flight opposition.

So, baseball-like things happened in 2009. Predictably, Billy struggled in his transition to the pros. Hamilton adjusted well in his second season of rookie ball, however, and managed to post a .383 OBP to support his .839 OPS in a round through the Pioneer League. He parlayed that into the number 50 spot on the pre-2011 Baseball America Top Prospect list, and continued to turn heads in Low-A Dayton and pop eyeballs in a big way. Hamilton finished second in the Midwest League in hits, but more importantly (and excitingly), he became the first player since 2001 to swipe 100 bases in the minor leagues. The athleticism was starting to show itself in a very meaningful way.

Pre-2012, Billy found himself as the 48th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, and also found himself on the roster at A+ Bakersfield. Through two levels in 2012, Hamilton posted an OBP of .400+, but that wasn't the stat that was on people's mind. On August 21st, 2012, Billy stole his 146th base of the season, setting the minor league record for stolen bases in a season. Hamilton would finish the season with 155 stolen bases over two levels. Everyone was sufficiently on notice.

In 2013, the Reds announced that Billy Hamilton would be moved to center field full time, as he was currently blocked at shortstop by Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius. The Reds jettisoned CF Drew Stubbs to make way for one year stop-gap OBP aficionado Shin Soo Choo; they were grooming Billy Hamilton to be the center fielder of the future. Billy played the 2013 season in Louisville and took a step back at the plate, turning in an OBP more than 100 points lower than his previous season. Regardless of that, Billy got his call up to the big leagues that September and proceeded to make his mark.

The Major Leagues
Billy Hamilton only got 19 PAs in his cup of coffee, but he absolutely made the most of his opportunity. Almost immediately, Hamilton made his impact on the base paths. In 13 games, Billy stole 13 bases, while whipping the Reds fanbase into a frenzy. (#RunBillyRun). His bat played well in the small sample but it didn't really matter; Cincinnati had Hamilton fever. Hamilton was the first major leaguer since 1920 to steal 4 bases in his first start.

Billy Hamilton was welcomed as the everyday center fielder in 2014 and saw his name appear primarily at the top of the lineup. After a brutal April and brief injury to start May, Billy began to find his stride. After posting a seriously strong June, Billy was named Rookie of the Month in the National League. The rest of the season fizzled for Hamilton and the Reds, but the lightning fast player set a rookie record for the Reds with 55 stolen bases in his initial campaign.

Contract
Pre-Arb Eligible
Earliest Arb Eligible: 2017
Earliest Free Agent: 2020

Stats

Baseball Reference

Fangraphs

Scouting Report
via The Baseball Cube

Speed: 100
Contact: 48
Patience: 55
Batting: 65
Power: 24

Defensive
via Fangraghs Fan's Scouting Report

Instincts: 68
First Step: 91
Speed: 90
Hands: 68
Release: 60
Arm Strength: 57
Arm Accuracy: 54
Overall: 70

2015 Projections

PA HR R RBI SB AVG/OBP/SLG DEF WAR
Steamer 557 7 62 39 57 .244/.293/.343 +12.4 2.1
ZiPS 621 6 82 51 63 .262/.314/.368 +11.3 3.1

PITCHf/x Hitter Profile

Looking at 2015
Everyone loves Billy Hamilton. You can't not love Billy Hamilton. Still so young and full of life, he's the most exciting player the Reds have on their roster when it comes to freak ability. The the question was and always has been: Will Billy Hamilton ever get on base enough to make his speed really play?

To his credit, he's saying all the right things this offseason. Billy Hamilton and those close to him recognize that if he is ever going to reach maximum value for the Reds, he has to work hard to figure out how to get on base. Say what you will about new Louisville Bats skipper Delino DeShields and some of his ideologies about the game, but he's a huge influence on Hamilton. And DeShields, he of 463 stolen bases and a career .352 OBP, should have a good idea about what Billy Hamilton needs to be doing.

For one, he needs to walk more. We can (and have) [and will] argue until we're blue in the face about whether or not Joey Votto should be taking walks (he should), but there's no argument about it with players like Billy Hamilton. With his amazing, blazing speed, the first priority for Hamilton has to be getting to first base by whatever means necessary. In that, Hamilton failed in his first year, posting a mere 5.5 BB%. Of course you could make the argument that he doesn't really have much opportunity to walk because pitchers are going to challenge him to do something with the bat. 47.8% of the pitches that Billy saw were in the zone, ranking 17th in baseball (min 500 PAs). The only Red to appear higher on that list is Zack Cozart. Not exactly the biggest boppers in Redsland. He ranked 11th in F-Strike% (first pitch strikes). None of this means you're a bad hitter in and of itself, but it's hard to walk when pitchers are pitching you in the zone.

Billy doesn't strike out at an obscene rate (19.1 K%), and he's not particularly known as someone that chases (30.3% O-Swing%). He also makes decent contact when swinging at pitches in the zone. So what does all this mean? He's just not doing anything with the ball when he puts it in play. Whether that's hitting too many fly balls, hitting it too weak, or just simply hitting them at people, he's just making too many outs to utilize his biggest tool. In 2014, he was a one trick pony.

Let's talk about that trick for a moment. It's a really, really amazing trick. But that trick is going to have to be more refined in 2015. At this point, I'm willing to chalk it up to getting used to the league, and it's not like 55 stolen bases is anything to scoff at. But, it may be time to start picking better situations. In Steal% (steal attempts to steal opportunities), Billy Hamilton lead the way by a mile. When Hamilton got on base and the next base was open in front of him, he went 46% of the time! In the major leagues, it's a lot easier to catch someone stealing if you know he's going to steal, no matter how fast that guy is. Being more selective could make the threat more real: Billy had a below average success rate. He had only +2.0 base-stealing runs added, good for only 25th. These aren't bad numbers, but we were lead to believe that this guy is supposed to be on another planet. The ability is there, but it'll need to be honed to be truly special.

It's been one season. Perhaps all the work that he's done in the offseason will come to fruition. The swing mechanics will be better in the second season. Maybe he becomes an all world bunter. He should definitely feel more comfortable; stop fiddling around with the fundamentals when things go wrong. He's also one year older and, physically, one year stronger. There are good signs. Fixable things. And for Billy to make the jump in his sophomore season, his play at the plate is going to have to reflect that.