Low Level Prospect Review: The Speedy Billy Hamilton

Apr 1, 2012; Goodyear, AZ, USA; A general view of a game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Every Friday throughout the season, I will be taking an in-depth look at a prospect who is in the lower levels of the minors who may not be ready in the next season or two, but should be front and center on the radar of dynasty league owners. So far I've taken a look at Rangers' prospect Cody Buckel and Diamondbacks prospect Archie Bradley. Next up is a shortstop in the Reds system, Billy Hamilton

The Basics

Bats: Switch
Throws: Right
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 160 lb
Age at End of 2012 Season: 22
On 40 Man Roster: No

His History

Hamilton was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft out of a high school in Mississippi. An extremely raw player, Hamilton was sent to the Reds' Rookie League affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, where he hit just .205/.253/.277, but stole 14 bases in 17 attempts. He was then shipped up to their other Rookie League affiliate in Billings for the 2010 season, where he hit .318/.383/.456 and 48/57 on stolen base attempts in just 69 games. The Reds moved him up for his first stint in full-season ball in 2011, and sent him to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, in Dayton, OH. He played in 135 games, splitting time between shortstop and second base, and hit .278/.340/.360. Oh, and he went completely nus on the basepaths, stealing 103 bases in 123 attempts.

What Does He Bring To The Game?

Speed. Lots, and lots, and lots of speed. He's shown a high success rate thus far (176 out of 211), and the kind of speed that could be a potential category winner for fantasy owners, regardless of the position. He has been playing shortstop thus far, although there seems to be concerns about whether or not he can stay there long-term. In terms of his defense, the scouting reports seem to point to the fact that his range may actually be hurting his numbers some, as he gets to so many grounders that he ends up with more chances to make errors as a result.

The other big concern seems to be whether or not he can hit enough to capitalize on that speed as he moves up the levels. When he was drafted, Hamilton was extremely raw in terms of his skills, but showed a number of tools and most importantly the speed. He appears to be improving with each season he plays, but his value will always be tied into the speed, and whether he can make enough contact to put that speed to good use.

Where Is He This Season?

Hamilton is playing in High-A so far, and has hit .386/.481/.536 with 1 home run, 6 RBI, and is 11 for 14 on stolen base attempts. It is hard to get a good feel for whether or not the numbers will be real or not this year, as Bakersfield is an extreme hitters' park, even for the California League. It wouldn't surprise me though to see him steal 80+ bases this season again.

What Could His Path to the Majors Be?

It seems like the Reds needs to let him move slowly, especially if they want to keep him at shortstop long-term. I could see him spending the full season in High-A, and continue moving upward at a level at a time. If they decide that he can't stay at shortstop, center field could be in his future based on the speed as well. Realistically, the Reds have committed to both Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto long term to man 2B and 1B, so Hamilton is unlikely to push Phillips out of the way once he is ready.

What Could He Do When He Arrives?

He could win his owners the stolen base category almost single handedly. It's a bit hard to project how his speed will translate as he continues to move up, but I think that if he can post even a .250 batting average, he could steal 60+ bases a season in the Major Leagues. He isn't going to provide power in the Majors (or really before then either), but he should hit for a reasonable enough batting average, score a solid amount of runs, and steal a ton of bases.

Conclusions:

I am a huge fan of Hamilton, but the key is to remember that the speed only helps you if it doesn't come with a complete drag on your batting average. Unfortunately, we're not likely to learn very much from his stint in the Cal League, so we will have to wait and see until his next promotion whether or not the performance is legitimate.

Sources:

Baseball Reference (Player Page)

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