When Billy Hamilton gets called up from the minor leagues by the Cincinnati Reds, he's going to prove that a player doesn't need to start games in order to make his presence felt—or to make an impact on a hotly-contested playoff race.
Now I know what some of you are probably saying:
"That's great, but plenty of prospects get called up in September and none of them make a major impact. Look at that Xander Bogaerts guy in Boston—all the hype in the world and he hasn't even taken an at-bat yet! Why should I care about Billy Hamilton—especially when you start off intimating that he probably won't start a game?!?!"
Because Hamilton has something that no other prospect in baseball has.
World. Class. Speed.
A shortstop-turned-center fielder, Hamilton set a new minor league single-season record last season with a combined 155 stolen bases between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, breaking c's 19-year-old record of 145 stolen bases, set back in 1983.
While he's shown improvement defensively as he adjusts to a new position, learning how to track fly balls off of the bat and using his speed to get to balls that other center fielders can only dream of reaching, he's still incredibly raw with the glove.
He's also incredibly impatient at the plate, evidenced by his 7 percent walk rate and 20 percent strikeout rate with Triple-A Louisville this season. Not a power hitter by any means, Hamilton's impatience at the plate has resulted in a mediocre .256/.308/.344 slash line this season.
Simply put, the Reds cannot afford to give him multiple at-bats in a game this season, not with the team's playoff hopes hanging in the balance and Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis all within four games of each other in a heated battle for NL Central supremacy.
But Hamilton's speed makes him a valuable weapon for the Reds—and he'll be a difference-maker down the stretch.
The Reds have played 39 games this season that were decided by one run, winning 20. While that's a winning record, playing one game above .500 down the stretch isn't going to get Cincinnati where it wants to be.
For argument's sake, let's say that the Reds find themselves trailing St. Louis by a score of 5-4 on Monday when Hamilton joins the team. It's the bottom of the eighth inning and Ryan Hanigan draws a walk to lead things off.
Hamilton's speed not only makes him a logical pinch-runner for Hanigan, but the Reds have a significantly higher chance of putting a runner in scoring position for the top of the order with only one out in the inning than they would have without him.
All of a sudden, Cincinnati's chances of tying things up just increased significantly.
That's not possible without Hamilton's speed coming off of the bench—and it's situations like that where he will make his biggest impact on the playoff race.
Billy Hamilton makes the Reds a far more dangerous team to face than they are now—that's bad news for the rest of the contenders in the National League.
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