Billy Hamilton will be the starting center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds come Opening Day. He possesses blazing speed and knows how to use it. The question is: Should you draft him in your fantasy baseball league?
His fantasy outlook is even creating buzz during spring training.
Hamilton's upside is hard to match, but it will not come without a lot of risk. His average draft position in Yahoo! leagues is 68.4. That makes him the 23rd outfielder off the board. Is he worth your seventh-round pick (standard 10-man leagues)?
First Let's Look at His Upside
He has the rare ability to single-handedly win a category for your fantasy team. There are not many, if any other players who have the potential to do that.
If he starts the entire season, it is not even overly optimistic to expect 60-plus stolen bases from Hamilton.
Remember, this is the same guy who stole 155 bases in 2012. It was in the minors, but anyone who can do that needs to be on your fantasy radar.
During his September call-up, Hamilton hit .368 with an OBP of .429. He appeared in 13 games, and he matched that with 13 stolen bases.
In a game against the Astros, Hamilton stole four times. He was even able to steal second safely on a pitchout (highlights below).
If he can get on base, he has Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips to drive him in. This will create plenty of run-scoring opportunities.
It is possible that he finishes near the top of the league in runs and stolen bases.
The problem is—this is far from guaranteed.
Hamilton is still developing as a hitter.
Sure his speed will allow him to beat out more hits than most, but he has no power. His six home runs a year ago was his career high. In his 2,258 at-bats in the minors, Hamilton has hit just 13 home runs.
His September call-up numbers are highly unlikely. It was a small sample size of just 19 at-bats. He hit just .256 with an OBP of .306 in Triple-A.
If he only managed these hitting numbers in the minors, it is hard to imagine much better in the big leagues this year.
Many of his stolen bases in September came as a pinch runner (see video). The problem for Hamilton has been getting on base, not stealing second once he gets there.
According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, he continued to struggle this offseason:
Hamilton posted a .284 OBP in the Puerto Rican winter league, and Peter Gammons quoted a scout who said he looked "a little overmatched." That substantiated the notion among some scouts and front office people that the Reds are heaping too much on his plate.
Hamilton going in the seventh round is too high for my liking. It makes more sense to go after a proven outfielder in that spot, rather than one who could potentially be out of a starting job a couple of months into the season.
The Reds showed that simply making the playoffs is not enough by firing Dusty Baker. If Hamilton is struggling, they will not be afraid to pull him from the lineup.
Cincinnati wants him to gain MLB experience, but winning games is more important. The Reds are not a rebuilding team and will not leave him out there all year if he struggles.
Hamilton is still just 23, so sending him back down to the minors is not unthinkable.
As a Reds fan, I hope Hamilton succeeds. He would finally bring us the prototypical leadoff hitter we have been lacking for years.
As a fantasy owner, there is too much risk to spend an early pick on him. Hamilton has yet to show he can be a consistent hitter above the Double-A level.
Below are his best- and worst-case scenarios.
|Billy Hamilton best-case scenario|
|Billy Hamilton worst-case scenario|
*All stats from Baseball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.