By now, if you're an avid baseball fan, you've probably heard of Billy Hamilton, the speedy infielder in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system.
Hamilton is young and very raw. At 21 years old, he has a lot of work to do before making it to Cincinnati, but he's well on his way.
Hamilton was drafted and signed by the Reds right out of high school as a second-round draft pick. In high school, he was a three-sport athlete who even had a football scholarship to Mississippi State as a wide receiver. From that alone you can see he's a tremendous athlete.
He's 6'1" and 160 pounds, so expect him to gain some muscle between now and when he suits up for the Reds.
If you need more convincing, then take a look at Hamilton's 2011 stat line. In 135 games in Single-A, he went .278/.340/.360 with three home runs, 50 RBI, 90 runs and 103 stolen bases.
That's no misprint, either: Hamilton really stole 103 bases last season. He also stole them in only 123 attempts, so he converted at a very efficient rate.
Hamilton's speed is his primary asset, but his bat is progressing nicely. Organizations were initially concerned he would be unable to hit consistently at a major league level.
Since his first professional season, however, Hamilton has worked hard to stifle those doubts and has produced very well as a leadoff hitter in the minors.
His first season was only 43 games long, but he posted a paltry slash line of .205/.253/.277. In the 204 games he's played since, he's had 833 at-bats, and his stat line is much better: .292/.349/.392.
As you can see, Hamilton is beginning to get his act together at the plate, and at just 21 you can expect him to improve further.
Hamilton is also a newly converted switch-hitter, so in those 833 at-bats after his first season, he was only just learning to switch-hit. Not many switch-hitting shortstops (or infielders, period) come through organizations, so Hamilton is something to be coveted.
Aside from the initial batting concerns, there are doubters about his shortstop fielding ability. It's thought that he may end up at second base or even in the outfield by the time he reaches the major league, but from what I've heard this offseason, the organization seems to be committed to keeping him at shortstop.
Though I believe he will stay the course and become a big league shortstop, the concerns are somewhat justified. Last year, Hamilton had issues in the field, and he posted a .932 fielding percentage with 39 errors in 574 chances. That's not going to cut it.
Hamilton is going to need to improve his glove work if he's going to stay at shortstop, but, as I have mentioned before, he's still very young and there's a great deal of room for improvement.
His speed and natural ability help him get to balls that most other shortstops can't reach and that could be a big asset for the Reds in the near future.
I believe Hamilton will end up as the Reds' starting shortstop and leadoff hitter in the near future. I expect him to start the year at Double-A, but he could easily end up in Triple-A Louisville before the season is up.
My major league estimated time of arrival for this highly touted prospect is 2014.