Could Billy Hamilton Change Baseball?
There have been few minor league baseball players to ever get the type of national media attention that Billy Hamilton received in 2012. The Cincinnati Reds minor leaguer had a solid season, but unlike other young newsmakers, no one is calling Hamilton an elite prospect. What grabs the attention is the amazing speed, but is speed enough to change the game at the pro level?
Baseball has seen its fair share of speedsters, from Ty Cobb to Maury Wills to Rickey Henderson. However, baseball has evolved to the point that most teams limit how often they run and try to steal bases. Last season, Mike Trout led the majors in stolen bases with only 49. In the 1980s, a player would need at least 100 to compete for that title.
In 132 minor league games last season, Hamilton stole 155 bases. He was caught 37 times. These numbers pretty much suggest that every time Hamilton is on base and no one is directly ahead of him, he is stealing. While so far it is working and grabbing headlines in the minors, can he really pull this off in the majors?
Scouts agree that they have never seen a player quite like Hamilton. He has elite speed, quickness and timing that makes him nearly impossible to contain. The problem is, he is a career .289/.364/.389 hitter with just seven home runs in four minor league seasons. He also does not have a set position, as he has played infield and outfield at times. While he has the speed, all of his other skills seem to be just below MLB-level.
Cincinnati figures to be in the playoff hunt this season, and possibly for years to come. If he is going to break in with the MLB club, he is going to have to earn it. He has totally baffled and frustrated pitchers in the minors while on the basepaths, but MLB players are supposed to be fine tuned enough to block that all out. If Hamilton is given free reign to run, he could make baseball a running game again. With steroids pretty much eliminated and power numbers down, speed could become an extremely valuable skill again.
It will be interesting to see how much freedom Hamilton receives when he does make it to the majors, but he has the potential to be a game changer and an exciting prospect to have on your fantasy baseball roster. Pitchers are not used to a guy trying to swipe close to 100 bags a season in this era.
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