Billy Hamilton (hamilbi02)
Billy R. Hamilton
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 160 lb.
- High School Taylorsville (MS) High School
- Debut September 3, 2013
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 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 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 to reach the mark, the first since Deion Sanders in 1997, and the youngest of the group. On August 31st, his 54th steal tied him with Bob Bescher who had set the Reds' rookie record in 1909. He finished with 56 steals, but only 72 runs scored, a result of a sub-par .292 on-base percentage. He ended the season with a .250 average in 152 games, 72 runs scored and 48 RBIs. His 56 steals were second in the NL to Dee Gordon, but he led the circuit by being caught stealing 23 times. A good surprise was how well he played defense in centerfield, becoming a finalist for the Gold Glove at the position with some spectacular catches, coupled with excellent range, 10 assists and only 2 errors.
He and the Reds started the 2015 season red hot. In the team's first four games - all victories - he stole 7 bases in as many attempts, becoming the first player to collect that many stolen bases in his first four games of the season since Vince Coleman had done so for the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals, on his way to getting 109 steals. With the patient Joey Votto hitting second behind him, Hamilton explained that he now felt he could take his time to select the right pitch on which to take off for second base - a big advantage. However, things went downhill after those first few games, as Billy had all sorts of trouble reaching base, and was even moved down to the 9th spot in the line-up on occasions. The few times he did get on, he was still able to steal bases seemingly at will, however, showing a much lower caught stealing rate than in his rookie season. On June 14th, he had a personal best 5 steals in an 11-inning game against the Chicago Cubs, but it still was not enough for the Reds, who lost the game, 2-1. He was placed on the disabled list on August 20th, the result of an injury suffered two days earlier on a fielding play in the 11th inning of a game against the Kansas City Royals. He made a sliding stop on a line drive hit by Alcides Escobar, then got up and rifled a bullet to throw him out, but sprained the capsule on his right shoulder and had to be taken out of the game. He was hitting .226 with a league-leading 54 stolen bases in 107 games at the time of the injury. He returned to the line-up on September 9th, but less than a week later he felt pain again after making a couple of long throws from centerfield and came out of a game early on September 14th. He came back for a pinch-running appearance a couple of days later, but that was his last game of the season, as the Reds announced on September 21st that he would undergo shoulder surgery. He finished the season at .226/.274/.289 in 114 games, with 56 runs scored and 57 stolen bases. His OPS+ was only 55 and was a key factor in the Reds' wretched season.
Although still not a premium offensive player in 2016, Billy was at least getting on base a bit more often at the start of the season. He missed ten days in the middle of June with a concussion, then on June 29th, in the 1st inning of a game against the Chicago Cubs, he was hit in the face by a line drive hit by Anthony Rizzo after trying to avoid a collision with LF Adam Duvall. The ball rolled for an inside-the-park homer while he had to leave the game with facial lacerations and a possible other concussion. On July 5th, he put his speed on display in the Reds' first win over the Cubs that year, as he stole three bases but also set the tone in the 1st inning when he scored from second base on a passed ball by C David Ross. Before Ross could reach the ball at the backstop, Billy had already rounded third base and P John Lackey was caught completely by surprise, not moving to cover home plate until Hamilton was halfway between third and home. He scored easily as Ross's throw went over Lackey's head. On July 17th, he scored the only run in a 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers by scoring on a passed ball by Jonathan Lucroy with two outs in the 9th; he had previously reached third on a stolen base. On August 7th, he had four stolen bases on three hits and scored three runs in a 7-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. That was part of a stretch of three games in which he stole 9 bases, finally putting him ahead of his main rival for the NL crown, Jonathan Villar. He led the majors with 19 steals in August, passing the total of 50 for the third straight year; the 19 stolen bases were one more than the combined total of the five teams with the fewest steals in the majors that month. However, he played his final game on September 4th, missing the final month of the season with an injury, which allowed Villar to pass him to claim the stolen base crown. He finished the season at .260 in 119 games, with 69 runs scored and 58 steals.
On May 24, 2017, he won a game with his speed against the Cleveland Indians when he barely managed to beat out what would have been a game-ending double play grounder against closer Cody Allen in the 9th. A video review was needed to confirm that he was safe. Zack Cozart followed with a single that barely got away from LF Michael Brantley. Billy, who was running on the play, raced all the way home behind Arismendy Alcantara, who scored from third base, to give the Reds a 4-3 win. On September 4th, he won a game in a more conventional way, hitting the first walk-off homer of his career. He connected off Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers with two outs in the bottom of the 9th for his fourth homer of the year, giving Cincinnati a 5-4 win. He hit .247 with an OBP of .299, 4 homers and 38 RBIs in 139 games that season, also stealing 59 bases, his fourth straight year with at least 50. Surprisingly, however, he had never been able to lead the league in that category during the period. 2018 was a very disappointing season, however. Given yet another chance to make his mark, he played 153 games, but again failed to reach base at even a .300 clip, hitting .236/.299/.327 with 4 homers and 27 RBIs. Worse, he scored just 74 runs and his stolen base total fell to 34, as his OPS+ remained dismal at 68. Having fired long-time manager Bryan Price earlier that season and seeking a new direction, the Reds decided to cut ties with Billy after the season, not making him a contract offer on November 30th, making him a free agent.
On December 10th, he agreed to a one-year contract worth $5.25 million with the Kansas City Royals. This was potentially a good situation for him, as he would be able to play regularly with a team in full rebuilding mode, in a larger ballpark more suited to his skill set, and be able to work on improving the areas of his game that had set him back thus far. However, he hit just .211 in 93 games in 2019 with just 12 RBIs and a relatively modest total of 18 stolen bases, the result of an OBP of just .275. The Royals placed him on waivers on August 19th and he was claimed by the Atlanta Braves, who were looking at him strictly as a pinch-runner and defensive substitute for the stretch run and the postseason. His first hit for his new team was a memorable on, on August 23rd, as it came in the 14th inning of a game against the New York Mets and drove in the winning run in a 2-1 win. He had come in as a pinch-runner in the 10th and promptly stolen a base but was left stranded; four innings later, he drove in Tyler Flowers from third base by pushing a grounder just outside the reach of 2B Joe Panik.
- 2012 Player of the Year California League Bakersfield Blaze
- 2014 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
- 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 4 (2014-2017)
- Jorge L. Ortiz: "Billy Hamilton hits the brakes - and then takes off", USA Today, July 4, 2014. 
- Mike Petriello: "Hamilton brings unique skills to free agency: Creative use of outfielder's strengths could reap rewards", mlb.com, November 30, 2018.