Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports
There may not be a more exciting player in the game than Billy Hamilton.
Billy Hamilton took baseball by storm after reaching the major leagues as a September call-up, going 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts before and scoring three runs as a pinch runner before logging his first career at-bat.
The Reds gave Hamilton three starts over the final month of the season to see what he could do, and the 23-year-old responded favorably by batting .500 (7-for-14) with four runs scored, two doubles and six stolen bases in those games.
In addition to setting a professional record with 155 bases in 132 games across two minor league levels in 2012, Hamilton also made significant strides at the dish, batting .311/.410/.420 with 112 runs scored, 159 hits and a 113/86 K/BB ratio.
Promoted to Triple-A Louisville for the 2013 season, Hamilton regressed across the board as he struggled to showcase the bat-to-ball and on-base skills that made him so effective the previous year. In 123 games before his call-up he batted only .256/.308/.343 with a 102/38 K/BB ratio but still managed to notch 75 stolen bases (in 90 attempts).
While Hamilton’s game-changing speed is an obvious asset at any level, the development of his hit tool remains a legitimate concern.
As a switch-hitter, Hamilton has quick wrists from both sides of the plate that allow him to generate above-average bat speed and be short to the ball. However, his overall inconsistency is worrisome; Hamilton struggles to keep his weight back and will lunge at too many offerings within the strike zone.
It also prevents him from turning on quality velocity on the inner-half of the plate. And though he controls the zone relatively well, he also makes far too much weak contact for someone who projects as a dynamic leadoff hitter.
While Hamilton flashed his enormous potential over the final month of the regular season, the Reds desperately need him to be something more than a reserve player. The combination of his elite speed and on-field aggressiveness gives him the potential to impact a game in a variety of ways.
Hamtilon’s impact speed already has him pegged as an early favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. Plus, if he can establish himself as an everyday player during the 2014 season, there’s reason to believe that the Reds will feature one of the better offenses in the game.