Billy Hamilton was born on September 9, 1990 in Collins, MS. He was a three sport athlete at nearby Taylorsville High School, earning all-state honors in football, basketball, and baseball. He was a three-star football recruit, which was good enough to earn him a scholarship to play wide receiver at Mississippi State University. He would later turn down that offer, opting for baseball instead.
The Minor Leagues
Billy was drafted by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft. He was viewed by scouts at the time as a raw, incredibly athletic talent with above average defensive skills and a plate approach that left many worried about his ability to hit at the next level. Billy had a rough go of it in his first season of rookie ball, struggling at the plate and only managing a .253 OBP and .577 OPS for the season. He spent a second season in rookie ball, where he saw his batting average and OBP improve by over 100 points each to go with a .839 OPS.
Billy really began to start turning heads in 2011. Going into that season, he was rated the 50th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. He backed it up by putting in a very good year in Low-A Dayton. He had a .340 OBP, was second in the Midwest League in hits, and became the first minor league player to steal 100 bases in a season since 2001. Billy continued his tear through the minors by having a ridiculous 2012 season. He put up great numbers at the plate in A+ Bakersfield, earning him a call-up to AA Pensacola midway through the year. While he was catching everyone's attention by catching pop-ups at the warning track from the shortstop position and hitting crazy fast inside the park home runs, he was also breaking records. He stole his 146th base of the season on August 21, 2012, breaking the minor league record for stolen bases in a season. He would finish that season with 155 stolen bases, and would later on be rated the 20th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America.
Billy would officially make the transition to center field prior to the 2013 season. The Reds traded Drew Stubbs to the Indians for one year of Shin-Soo Choo, allowing Billy to spend the year in AAA Louisville adjusting to his new position. Although he spent that season seeing a decline in his offensive output, he got his call-up to the majors in September of that season where he immediately left his mark.
The Major Leagues
Billy Hamilton made his Cincinnati Reds debut on September 3, 2013 against the St. Louis Cardinals. His debut came at an exciting time for the Reds, as the anticipation of his call-up was another spark added to the excitement of a September pennant race with the Cardinals and Pirates, and he immediately made an impact. Coming in to pinch-run in the 7th inning of a scoreless tie, Billy notched the first stolen base of his major league career off of Yadier Molina. He would later come around to score on a Todd Frazier double, becoming the lone run in a 1-0 win for the Reds. He would finish the season with 13 stolen bases (including 4 in his first career start), giving Reds fans a glimpse of what they hoped to see in the future.
Billy was penciled in as the everyday center fielder from the get-go in 2014, and things did not start well. Although he flashed his ridiculous speed when he actually got on base, he struggled mightily from the lead-off spot throughout the month of April. After missing a little time with injury in May, he finally began to hit his stride. He went absolutely nuts in June and earned himself National League Rookie of the Month honors. He eventually cooled off, as did the Reds, and finished the season with a .250/.292/.355 line. Although he struggled with the bat, he still finished second in Rookie of the Year voting and set the MLB record for stolen bases by a rookie with 56.
Unfortunately, Billy's performance did not improve at the plate in the 2015 season. His best month of the season was June, where he only managed a paltry .238/.301/.250 line and a season OPS of .563. He continued to put up outstanding defensive numbers (22 DRS in 2014-2015, 1.000 Fld% in 2015) and made a massive improvement on the base paths, which will be covered in more detail later. Billy's season ended earlier than he had hoped, however. He injured his right shoulder making a fantastic diving catch against the Royals on August 18. While he tried to finish out the season, he only played 7 games in September and had season ending surgery to repair a torn labrum on September 25.
Earliest Arb Eligible: 2017
Earliest Free Agent: 2020
PITCHf/x Hitter Profile
Looking at 2016
For the second straight season, Reds fans have been asking the same question: Can Billy Hamilton get on base enough to utilze his dangerous speed? He is the most exciting player in the lineup based on raw ability, and just the sheer anticipation of what he can do when he gets on base has turned him into a fan favorite in his young career.
The biggest area he needs to improve is where he hits the ball. He owns a 1.1 ground ball to fly ball ratio and a ground ball rate of 42.6%. For someone with his speed, he isn't giving himself much of a chance to use it. When he did hit the ball on the ground he seemed a bit unlucky, he had a .239 BABIP on ground balls in 2015, so we should expect some improvement there in 2016. Hitting the ball on the ground becomes even more important in 2016 after his off-season labrum repair. For someone who already does not have much power behind his swing, undergoing a surgery like that can decrease his power even more. He also has had pretty good plate discipline so far in his career, as he doesn't swing at many pitches outside the zone (28.0 O-Swing%) and he makes good contact (83.6 Contact%), so his biggest issue is that he doesn't do anything with the pitches that he hits.
The real question is: How does he fix this? One suggestion is that he starts focusing on only hitting right handed. Billy had better numbers batting right handed in 2015, including an OPS over 100 points higher swinging from the right side compared to the left. He even went as far to suggest during the season that he should stick to batting right handed, but the Reds thought otherwise. He has also continued to focus on bunting which, for a player like Billy, should be able to help utilize his speed. He reached base 41% of the time in 2015 when laying down a bunt, so hopefully he can continue that pace.
The biggest improvement we have seen in Billy is his performance on the base paths. In 2014, his success rate was below average on stolen base attempts. Although he set the rookie record with 55 stolen bases, he was also caught 23 times. In 2015, he stole 56 bases and was only caught 8 times. He was also only picked off twice in 2015, compared to 8 times the previous season. So not only did he attempt fewer stolen bases, he also picked his spots better and was more successful doing it. This effort did not go without reaping its benefits, either: He had +8.1 base-stealing runs added, compared to only +2.0 in 2014.
Thankfully, the issues listed above are fixable. While he lost some precious development time with his off-season shoulder surgery, the Reds seem set on giving him every chance to improve in 2016, as they have already penciled him in as the lead-off hitter to start the season. If he can make some of these adjustments to go along with his improvements as a base-runner, he can turn from simply a dangerous player to an absolute threat every time he steps on the field.