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FuN with ZiPS: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

Will Billy Hamilton match, exceed or fall short of his 2014 ZiPS projections?

Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Hamilton is so fast. How fast is he? Billy Hamilton is so fast he never has to wait in line at the DMV. But, more importantly, he's so fast he can win you the steals category. Alone. All by himself. The Cincinnati speedster appeared in 13 games for the Reds last season and finished with 13 steals, the second highest total on the team. In 13 games! This is the part where I tell you that, over 162 games, one steal per game amounts to 162 thefts, which would top the modern day record of 130 set by Ricky Henderson in 1982. But much like a hitter who blasts three home runs on Opening Day, I will confidently tell you it's a real long shot that same player reaches his magical pace number of 486 home runs by season's end.

Shortly after the Rangers signed former Cincinnati outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a seven year, $130 million contract, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty announced Hamilton would take over as the team's starting center fielder. And that's when the real fun began. How many bases can Hamilton steal with a full-time job? 50? 60? 70? 100?

If 2012 is any indication, a lot. That season, Hamilton set the minor league record for most steals in a single season with 155 thefts in 192 attempts (37 caught stealing). The previous year, he stole 103 in 123 attempts. And, in 2013, he went 88 for 104 at the minor league level. Is it conceivable he reaches similar numbers over a full 162-game schedule at the big league level?

On Wednesday, Dan Szymborski's 2014 Cincinnati Reds ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs, including the following lines for Hamilton:











Billy Hamilton






















Billy Hamilton












Obviously, the first thing you look to is the stolen base number: 68. With all of the big splashy numbers I just gave you, 68 doesn't seem like a lot. Wily Taveras had 68 steals as recently as 2008, and, without looking it up, I couldn't tell you where he is playing -- if anywhere -- in 2014. Even more recently, Juan Pierre stole 68 in 2010.

But those numbers are significantly larger compared to our most recent data. In 2013, for example, only one player topped 50 steals (Jacoby Ellsbury with 52), while a total of eight players bested 40. And that was a rise from the previous year, when six reached 40 and not one player made it to 50. Among all major leaguers, only Rajai Davis has recorded back-to-back seasons of 40-plus steals. But that's only gotten him as far as the 36th and 39th best outfielder in 2012 and 2013, respectively, according to the ESPN Player Rater.

ZiPS also projects a .264 batting average and a .319 on-base percentage, but both appear optimistic, as Hamilton couldn't even reach those numbers in 547 plate appearances in Triple-A Louisville. We all know Hamilton is freaky fast, but he'll need to improve considerably at the dish in order to push for stolen base numbers approaching 70. Is he going to hit enough to even get the opportunity for record-setting numbers on the base paths? Will he get 500-600 plate appearances? That's certainly a big, big question mark we'll need to follow heading into and out of spring training.

I have no issues with the other counting stats for Hamilton. He's not going to drive in many runs as the leadoff man (that's a given), and you shouldn't automatically assume he's going to sore into 80-90 runs with very questionable on-base skills. Hamilton clearly has game-changing speed, but there's always the possibility of him flopping like Dee Gordon in Los Angeles. And that's the risk you take.

The biggest question might be, "Where do you draft a player like Hamilton?" According to the latest NFBC mock data, Hamilton has an ADP (Average Draft Position) of 81.37. That puts him in the seventh-to-eighth round range. While it's hard to argue against the upside of Hamilton at that point in the draft, he still represents one of the biggest risks -- and biggest potential rewards -- in 2014 drafts.

Speed does funny things to people once they're in the draft room. I can't truthfully tell you whether I will own none, one or multiple shares of Hamilton, but I'll definitely be tempted to select Hamilton with an eye on owning the top speed play in 2014. Will you?