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Billy Hamilton likely to open 2014 as Reds’ lead-off man and starting center fielder

Dec 7, 2013, 7:35 PM EDT

Billy Hamilton Getty Images

Billy Hamilton was a weapon off the bench for the Reds in September as the team geared up for a run at the NL Wild Card. In 2014, Hamilton is expected to play full-time as the Reds’ lead-off man and starting center fielder, writes’s Mark Sheldon. Shin-Soo Choo patrolled center for them in 2013, but as he is expected to sign elsewhere in free agency, the Reds seem content to let Hamilton prove himself on a full-time basis.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said, “It’s going to be very difficult for us with the amount of money that’s out there. [Hamilton] would be our leadoff hitter if we went to Spring Training tomorrow.”

In his first taste of Major League action in September, the 23-year-old Hamilton stole 13 bases in 14 attempts while hitting .368 in 22 trips to the plate. With Triple-A Louisville, where he spent most of his time throughout the 2013 season, Hamilton stole 75 bases in 90 attempts while hitting .256.

  1. philsieg - Dec 7, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    This will be great!! Hamilton had a .304 OBP at Louisville last year. It’ll be like Dusty never left.

    • clydeserra - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:52 AM

      Hey, Dusty Baker knows what he is doing. He is a big league manager.

    • zakkwylderulz - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:55 AM

      I hope I’m wrong, but I fear this is gonna be a loooooonnng summer…

  2. Kevin S. - Dec 7, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    And this is supposed to put Cinci in a position of strength for Gardner talks?

  3. spudchukar - Dec 7, 2013 at 9:58 PM

    IMHO, the move to Hamilton would be a mistake. His OBP and defense are serious questions. However, if the decision came down to this option, or a deal bringing Gardner and losing Bailey straight up, I would choose the Hamilton former, cause the Reds have neither the cash, nor players to make a move for another starter. They will win more games with Hamilton in center and Bailey in the rotation than Gardner in center and no one to start. Bailey is as good a #3 as there is in the game.

    • jm91rs - Dec 7, 2013 at 11:19 PM

      Hamilton played just one year in center, but by the end of the year scouts were telling reds brass he was the best cf in their minor league division (whatever it’s called). His speed allows him to up for mistakes he makes by not knowing how to track the balls well yet. Freakish speed and athleticism will keep him average at the minimum until experience gets him to better than average. Not sure about his strength. I’ll be far more worried about his poor on base numbers last year than I will his defense, but somehow the reds made the playoffs a couple of times with Drew Stubbs and misc others leading off. He’s the best option they have ( not necessarily saying a lot)

      • spudchukar - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:27 AM

        That is pretty much as I stated below, and I agree that the Reds have little option but to give him a try. I still think it will fail, cause I don’t believe he can get on base enough to exercise his speed.

        The Reds can still be a contending team, but a lot of things have to go right. But their starting staff and closer should keep them in a lot of games. But it is hard to see how they are better in 2014, cause Choo produced many more runs that one could expect Hamilton to do, and even if he matches Choo, that would only be a wash, and a wash was only good enough for 3rd place.

  4. sportsfan69 - Dec 7, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    Defensive liability? Did you actually watch Reds games this year? Hamilton is an excellent outfielder in CF with his speed. Chris Heisey will play 30 percent of time. Give the guy a chance.

    • spudchukar - Dec 7, 2013 at 11:08 PM

      Takes more than speed to be an outstanding center fielder. Hamilton has very little experience, still misjudges balls, has no arm, and his Baseball IQ is questionable. He has the tools to improve, but to classify him as an excellent outfielder, much less an excellent center fielder is misguided. However, he is better than Heisey who isn’t even a good left fielder.

  5. chrisernst82 - Dec 7, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    My fantasy team doesn’t care if he plays good CF. Im stoked to hear he has a good shot at leadoff, he could be the first 100+ SB guy in years! If he makes any progression and could find a way to get his OBP into the .330 range he ill be awesome!

  6. sportsfan69 - Dec 7, 2013 at 11:30 PM

    Hamilton could be a Mickey Rivers type of player that teams have to account for. A walk, bunt hit, or a slap hit becomes a double with a stolen base.

  7. metalhead65 - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:23 AM

    somebody please tell me how he is going to get the experience he needs playing in louisville? if the reds could survive 2 tears of drew stubbs and his .220 batting average along with his 200 strikeouts they will be fine with Hamilton batting .240 or higher while learning on the job. spare me the stubbs was such a great defender, he was fast and that was all he was or why would the indians have signed bourne and moved stubbs to right field when he did play? hamilton will only get better and dusty is not there to keep putting out there everyday should he go into a prolonged slump like he did with stobbs. I remember him going 0-35 and still being in the lineup. the kid has to learn some day why not now?

    • spudchukar - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      Because it is easier to learn a position at AAA, than in the “under the microscope” majors. That said, unless Walt can swing a deal, and I don’t believe the Reds have the cash nor players to acquire another option, it will be Hamilton in CF, to begin the 2014 season, warts and all.

      • metalhead65 - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:15 PM

        he has been under the microscope since he started stealing bases, he can handle it. he proved he can play when he got his limited chances under baker. anybody else notice the reds did not win another game when he did not play the the last week of the season.

      • spudchukar - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:27 PM

        This dumb even by your standards. He started 3 games in 2013, and appeared in 10 others. Banking on results on 20 plate appearances redefines stupid.

      • metalhead65 - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:34 PM

        your right of course,the reds should keep in the minors until he has amassed 5.00 at bats and then call him up only to have him sit on the bench and observe for a couple of more years then when he is a seasoned vet at age 35 give him a chance to show what he can do . yeah much better plan than giving a electrifying young talent a chance to show what he can do now. talk about dumb.

      • spudchukar - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:44 PM

        Once again reading comprehension fails you. As stated previously, the Reds have little choice but to start him in 2014. Is he ready? His 2013 stats in AAA, certainly scream, NO. A .307 OBP is pathetic.

        “Electrifying young talent”? He can run and steal bases, but dragging your bat back to the bench doesn’t do much for me.

        And about judging a player on 20 MLB ABs: this little known trivial fact, both Willie Mays and Rogers Hornsby were 0 for their first 20. Gives one pause.

      • metalhead65 - Dec 8, 2013 at 1:02 PM

        are you a reds fan? if so then after watching stubbs and his ,220 batting average and 200 strikeouts leading off for 2 years I think the reds can live with whatever hamilton brings to the table while he learns on the job. he started slow in but finished pretty well in AAA but don’t the facts get in the way of your bashing him. nope he is not ready and must stay in the minors until he has reached your metric standards of being a good player.

      • spudchukar - Dec 8, 2013 at 1:27 PM

        And once again that reading comprehension thing escapes you. As stated, the Reds have little choice but to start him in 2014, cause they have no other options. His chances of succeeding, little to none, if you appreciate OBP.

        Drew Stubbs was a 1st round pick in 2006, flew through the minors, posting over .350 OBP, not great, but slightly better than Hamilton. However, the Bigs proved too much for him, and he never could live up to his minor league numbers.

        The odds are Hamilton will perform similarly. Perhaps a little better, cause he doesn’t strike out much, but because his power numbers are so pathetic, teams can pitch less carefully to him than Stubbs.

  8. sportsfan69 - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    Nice reply Metalhead65,

    Now, the Reds can win without the idiotic line up changes that Dusty would put out on a daily basis, like sit a hot hitter because it made no logical sense or keep a pitcher out to long.

  9. jonrox - Dec 8, 2013 at 1:24 AM

    Because Jocketty still hasn’t learned the lesson from Corey Patterson, Willy Tavares, and Drew Stubbs

  10. yahmule - Dec 8, 2013 at 11:52 AM

    I think one factor in the decision to fire Dusty was his refusal to give Hamilton any playing time down the stretch. He was recalled on September 1st, but didn’t start a game until the 18th. He went 3-4 with two BB and four stolen bases. He got one more AB until his next start on the 22nd. He went 3-6 with two more stolen bases. This earned him six more plate appearances over the final week.

    I love how people are certain this kid can’t get on base after 547 plate appearances as a 22 year old in AAA.

    • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2013 at 12:08 PM

      There’s a difference between giving Billy Hamilton a chance to establish himself at the major-league level and installing Billy Hamilton as your leadoff hitter right now. If Jocketty is confident in his ability to play quality defense in CF, you bat him eighth and roll with the bat. But counting on him at the top of the order, based on his track record, is foolishness.

      • metalhead65 - Dec 8, 2013 at 2:41 PM

        bad idea. he needs to know what it’s like to be in that position from the start. one of the reasons stubbs sucked was he was put there when he had never done it before. why get comfortable hitting lower then get tossed into doing something you are not used to or prepared for? this also was yje case with batting cozart second when he had never hit there before and proved he was not capable of doing the job but dusty kept him there most of the season because he was fast. his average went up the minute he was moved down in the order. hamilton needs to know what it is going to be like from the start.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2013 at 3:13 PM

        Zack Cozart sucked as the number two hitter because Zack Cozart is not a good hitter. In fact, of the three lineup positions he’s hit in with more than 100 PA, 2nd has been his best.* Not that it matters because hitting is hitting, regardless of where you do it.

        *Best being a relative term, of course.

      • yahmule - Dec 8, 2013 at 3:59 PM

        Put him in the most difficult lineup position? Seems counter intuitive.

  11. karbanson - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:01 AM

    Everyone here is forgetting that the Reds forced Hamilton into becoming a switch hitter at the start of the 2013 season. That alone takes time for ANYone to get accustomed to doing. He definitely deserves a chance to be an every day starter. As far as hitting lead off, give him a shot until he gives a reason to be bumped down. We’re talking about their top prospect here. I am a Cardinals fan!! I want to see Molina vs Hamilton on the bases as much as possible!

  12. davidbrentfan - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    I have a strong feeling that Billy Hamilton’s production ceiling is similar to that of Juan Pierre. That being said, I think he will be lucky to have a career as productive as Pierre’s.

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