Billy Hamilton, Outfield, Cincinnati Reds
2013 season (minors): 123 G, 504 AB, .256 BA, 6 HR, 41 RBI, 75 SB, .651 OPS
2013 season (majors): 13 G, 19 AB, .368 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 13 SB, .902 OPS
If you look at the list of baseball’s all-time stolen base leaders, you’ll see the name Billy Hamilton in third place overall, after Lou Brock and Rickey Henderson. He stole a then-record 111 bases in 1889 for the Kansas City Cowboys and again in 1891 for the Philadelphia Phillies. That Billy Hamilton stole 912 career bases.
In 2013 another Billy Hamilton (no relation) began his quest to overtake his namesake — and maybe even Brock and Henderson — on the all-time stolen base list.
Yes, the Cincinnati Reds’ 23-year-old center fielder has that kind of speed. The team’s second-round pick in the 2009 draft had a somewhat unbelievable 395 stolen bases in 502 minor league games spanning five seasons. In 2012 he stole a minor league-record 155 bases between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
It appeared Hamilton would be stealing his way to the majors with nary a speed bump, but Hamilton’s numbers in 2013 caused some concerns. He had trouble getting on base for Triple-A Louisville and finished the year with a .256 average and .308 OBP. His strikeout rate was relatively high, and he didn’t draw many walks. His numbers on the basepaths, however, were unreal. Despite reaching base in just 167 of 547 plate appearances, he still had 75 stolen bases in 90 attempts.
Hamilton runs a ton, and he runs that much because no one can catch him. If he can come anywhere near his 82 percent minor league success rate in the majors (and there’s no reason to believe he can’t), he could make a run at Rickey Henderson’s single-season record.
Sure, the game has changed over the past few decades. No major leaguer has had triple-digit steals in a season since Vince Coleman in 1987; Jacoby Ellsbury led the league last season with a paltry 52 steals. In recent years, a rule of thumb has taken hold that stolen bases are only beneficial if swiped at a 75 percent success rate. Not many in the league have the speed and ability to do that. Hamilton does.
The best part is that the speedy center fielder has already displayed his base-stealing prowess at the major league level. Hamilton played in only 13 games for the Reds last season, but still somehow managed to record 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. Now, many of those were in pinch-running appearances, and people will still argue that he can’t steal first base.
But Hamilton actually had success getting on in his short stint last year, going 7-for-19 with two walks in 22 plate appearances. All Hamilton needs is the opportunity, and that’s exactly what he’s going to get this year as the Reds’ projected starting center fielder. Pitchers and catchers will do whatever they can to keep him off the bases, because they know that if he gets on, he’s running. And they can’t stop him.
Next up: Khris Davis, Milwaukee Brewers