Billy Hamilton was one of the most highly regarded fantasy prospects last off-season. When discussing future MLB speed demons likely to emerge from the minors in the near future his name was usually the first mentioned. However, questionable defense at shortstop along a 50:133 BB:K ratio in 550 single-A at-bats made many skeptical of his future value. His .278 single-A batting average was not very impressive either. Would he be a speed-only player who couldn't even contribute a decent batting average?
In mid-April last year Jason Hunt profiled Billy Hamilton last April. That article can be found Here. Hamilton was displaying much-improved skills and putting up impressive numbers while playing for the Reds hitter-friendly high-A affiliate. Those improvements turned out to be very real. Hamilton took 52 free passes at high-A in only 337 at-bats. He also lowed his K% from 21.9% at single-A to 17.9% at high-A. The .323 average at high-A was inflated but the .286 average after his promotion to double-A was pretty much legit. In addition, Hamilton’s OBP was above .400 at each level in 2012. His OPS for the year was over .800. Hamilton became a much more complete player. What I find most encouraging is his 36:43 BB:K ratio at double-A. He maintained many of his adjustments and kept improving after being promoted. One thing that hasn’t changed is Hamilton’s speed. He was 155/192 in stolen base attempts last season. When you combine the speed and base-running instincts he has with the adjustments he’s made at the plate to get on base more and build a steady approach you get a really special type of fantasy prospect.
Hamilton is moving to the outfield full-time this season. In some leagues you might be able to play him at shortstop if he is called up. In others, don't expect to be able to play him at any other position than outfield. The Reds outfield is full right now but it will only take a slow start to the season by the team itself or Ryan Ludwick and/or an injury to one of the outfielders to get Hamilton to the show quickly, especially if he picks up where he left off in 2012. There's also the chance that Shin-Soo Choo really ends up struggling in center-field while Hamilton proves to be a force out there. The time has come and gone to buy Hamilton at a reasonable price for dynasty and keeper formats. It is time to see if Hamilton's owner will let you pay a heavy ransom for him. If you own him, I suggest making him close to untouchable. If you play in a deep league, NL-only league, or one where you have a bench spot available I would consider adding Hamilton right now. If you already feel confident in your steals and he ends up playing even half the season in the majors he could end up winning you the category. Looking towards the future, in a 12-team league having Hamilton on your team stealing 80+ bases a season would mean the flexibility to load up on mostly big power hitters across the rest of your roster. Hamilton's OBP improvements and his future in a talented Reds lineup and hitter's ballpark suggest he will score over 100 runs per season with ease as well. Everything except his future position has improved in the past year. Hamilton has taken a big step forward and he might take the next step, showing off his speed on the base-paths and his new, improved, and still improving plate approach at the MLB level in 2013.