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Billy Hamilton (hamilbi02)

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Billy R. Hamilton

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[edit] Biographical Information

Outfielder Billy Hamilton, like his namesake, Hall of Fame outfielder Sliding Billy Hamilton, is a tremendous base stealer. He led the minor leagues with 103 stolen bases in 2011, and in 2012 stole his 100th base on July 2nd, after only 78 games, putting him on a pace to shatter to all-time minor league record of 145 steals set by Vince Coleman in 1983. He did indeed pass Coleman with three stolen bases on August 21st, and finished the year with 155, setting a new record for organized baseball.

Hamilton was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft out of Taylorsville (MS) High School. Scouted by Tyler Jennings, he passed up an opportunity to play wide receiver at Mississippi State University to sign with the Reds. He started his pro career that year as a shortstop with the GCL Reds, hitting .205 in 43 games. It was in his sophomore season, with the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League in 201, that he began to show tremendous skills. He hit .318 in 69 games, scoring 61 runs, hit 10 triples and stole 48 bases while being caught only 9 times. After the season, he was ranked the #50 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America.

In 2011, Hamilton moved to the Dayton Dragons of the Midwest League, where he hit .278 in 135 games, scored 99 runs and stole 103 bases while being caught only 20 times. His stolen base total was the highest in the minor leagues that year and he became the first player with 100 steals in 10 years. Part of the reason for the drop in his batting average was that he started switch-hitting that year, after being originally a right-handed batter, and it took him some time to get fully comfortable hitting from the left side. However, he really emerged as a special player in 2012, when he played for the Bakersfield Blaze of the California League. Not only did he accumulate unheard of stolen base totals there, but he also was red hot with the bat, hitting .327 with a .416 OBP over the first half, and scoring almost a run per game. He was named to play in the 2012 Futures Game that year. After 82 games, he was promoted to the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the AA Southern League, but didn't slow down, as it were, immediately adding to his total of 104 stolen bases with Bakersfield. He shattered Coleman's record by getting three steals on August 21st, walking and stealing second in the 1st inning for number 144, then reaching on a single in the 3rd. He proceeded to steal second to tie the all-time record, and then third to pass the "Man of Steal". He finished the year with 155 steals, the new all-time record in organized baseball, in addition to a .311 batting average, 112 runs scored, 22 doubles and 14 triples.

Caught in a pennant race, the Reds decided not to call up Hamilton at the end of the 2012 season, but he attracted a lot of attention in spring training in 2013, even though he stood no chance of making the team. The front office had asked him to move to center field and play a year in AAA, with the hope that he would be ready to be the Reds' leadoff hitter in 2014. He hit .256/.308/.343 in 123 games for the AAA Louisville Bats, scoring 75 runs but leading the International League with 75 stolen bases. He was called up to Cincinnati when rosters expanded on September 1st and made his major league debut two days later as a pinch-runner for Ryan Ludwick in the 7th inning of a scoreless tie with the St. Louis Cardinals. He promptly stole second base and came in to score on Todd Frazier's double, for the only run in a 1-0 victory with important playoff implications. He repeated the feat the next day, again subbing for Ludwick at first base in a key situation, this time with the Reds trailing, 4-3, in the bottom of the 14th inning. He once again stole second base, beating the cannon arm of Yadier Molina, and came in to score the tying run on Zack Cozart's single. Alas, the Reds blew a chance to win the game in the 15th when Shin-Soo Choo was thrown out at home when Chris Heisey whiffed on a bunt attempt, and St. Louis won the game on Matt Adams' second extra-inning homer of the game, in the 16th. He scored another key run as a pinch-runner for Ludwick on September 7th, this time beating the cannon arm of rookie Yasiel Puig when he scored the winning run from second base on Frazier's single in the 10th inning of a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of a packed house at Great American Ballpark. He had once again reached second base thanks to a steal, and it was his fourth in four games (the third having come the previous day); that made the first player since 1921 to start his career in this fashion. He started his first game on September 18th, playing centerfield and batting ninth in an interleague game against the Houston Astros; it was another memorable occasion, as he reached base five times on a pair of singles, a double and two walks, scored twice and stole four bases. He became the first player of the modern era to steal four times in his first career start; his second run broke a 4-4 tie in the top of the 13th inning, and was key to the Reds' 6-5 victory. He was finally caught stealing for the first time, after being successful in his first 13 attempts, on September 25th by rookie C Juan Centeno of the New York Mets.

Following the departure of Shin-Soo Choo via free agency, Hamilton was the starting centerfielder and lead-off hitter for the Reds when they opened the 2014 season against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 31st. He did not do much igniting, however, as he went 0 for 4 with 4 strikeouts, never getting a chance to show his speed. It took him some time to get untracked, as after 7 games, he was hitting .091 and had yet to steal a base. He broke through on April 9th with a three-hit game, scoring twice, including once on a shallow pop-up, and stealing his first two bases of the year in leading the Reds to a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. He continued to hit better after that and on April 29th hit his first career home run, a solo shot of Jeff Samardzija of the Chicago Cubs in the 5th inning of a 3-2 win. He then got very hot in June, when he collected 36 hits, including 10 doubles, scored 18 runs and stole 14 bases; he hit .327 and, although not known for his power, slugged .500, to earn National League Rookie of the Month honors. On August 27th, he stole his 50th base of the season in a 7-5 win over the Cubs; he was the 9th player in Reds history tor each the mark, the first since Deion Sanders in 1997, and the youngest of the group.

[edit] Further Reading

  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Billy Hamilton hits the brakes - and then takes off", USA Today, July 4, 2014. [1]

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