Hamilton Named Rookie of the Month

Hamilton in Futures Game

Billy Hamilton's accolades on the base paths put him at or near the top of Cincinnati prospects lists for the past couple of seasons. Now he's halfway into his rookie campaign and his progress is suggesting that big things can be expected from the speedster.

Billy Hamilton is answering critics by getting recognition for June's Rookie of the Month. It was a well-deserved award as he hit .327 with a .348 on-base percentage. Surprisingly he also popped four home runs to help power his slugging percentage for the month to. 500. Of course speed is the name of Hamilton's game and he swiped 16 bags in 27 games to raise his season total to a league second-best 34.

Cincinnati can't be disappointed with his progress after he struggled at the plate last year with Louisville. There was no secret that they would have preferred keeping Shin-soo Choo another year to let him continue developing in the minors. They tendered Choo before he walked and though the Reds were never a serious threat to retain his services in the free agency bidding war they picked up an extra draft pick that was recently converted into shortstop Alex Blandino.

There wasn't as much reason to doubt Hamilton's ability as there was for his MLB readiness. He'd been fast-tracked up the system, spending only a half season each in high-A and AA and won't turn 24 years old until later this season. What was most concerning was his plate discipline against International League pitching because he struck out in over 18% of his plate appearances and his 102 whiffs was almost triple the number of times he walked (38). Meanwhile he was still learning a new position with only one year in centerfield.

One wouldn't expect Hamilton's contact to improve after moving up to face MLB pitchers, but thus far he's kept roughly the same rate. Actually his whiff rate is a whisker lower than last season (18.3% vs 18.6%) which indicates the improvement during his final month at Louisville was legit. That came just in time for him to thrill Reds fans over the final month of the season when he hit .324 in limited plate appearances after an expansion call-up while stealing 13 bases in 13 games and getting caught only once.

But it's no surprise that Hamilton is racking up the steals after he cracked the century mark in two minor league seasons. It's also no surprise that his speed has quickly enabled him to become an elite outfielder while patrolling center. Of course defense is difficult to evaluate analytically because of variables like ballpark dimensions and strikeout rates of the pitching staffs. However, roughly speaking, Hamilton's range factor shows that he's running down 11% more putouts than the NL average for centerfielders and he's been charged with only one error. It's uncertain how much question there was regarding his arm strength-after all, he'd played shortstop before-but he's gunned down four runners. Strong arms often do not throw out a lot of runners because opponents soon learn to take fewer risks against them.

He's made progress in spite of starting off on the wrong foot this season too. Though it was only one game, there were probably some dread among Reds fans when their leadoff hitter struck out in all four of his plate at –bats on opening day. However after hitting .245 in April, Hamilton batted .260 in May before breaking out in June. No one can complain about that progress.

As Hamilton matures there's reason to expect his walk rate to improve because he drew free passes in almost 13% of his plate appearances at Bakersfield before he was moved up to the more advanced levels. If that happens it won't be enjoyable for opposing defenses whenever he reaches first with an open base in front of him.

There are no shortages of stats in the game of baseball and though a player's value can never be entirely summed up with numbers that doesn't prevent analysts from looking at multiple angles to often get very close. Hamilton's speed does give him qualities that escape any traditional stat, or contemporary one for that matter. Right now he's leading the league in number of times getting thrown out, a dubious feat that he'll likely maintain. On the other hand he'll lead the league in advances from errant throws in pickoff attempts and stolen bases. Infield hits can be found as well as number of times reaching safely from errors, but it's impossible to decipher how much his speed inflates both of those numbers. He's slight of frame and not a candidate for much power, but his slugging percentage will be increased from stretching hits for extra bases. Often a hit plus a steal is every bit as good as a double. Basically, any time he has the opportunity to make something happen with his legs he as a green light and opponents are aware of it.

No matter what angle is used there's no doubt that Hamilton gives the Cincinnati attack another dimension it hasn't had in a long time, nor has any many other lineups for that matter. Speed brings excitement and Reds fans can get ready for plenty of that now that he's learning his way to first base against MLB pitching. He's still off the radar for NL Rookie of the Year considerations but a strong finish could change that. One thing for sure, speed will always be part of his game, even in times when others facets are slumping. What's even more exciting is the evidence pointing to Cincinnati finding a legitimate leadoff hitter going forward after the brief stay of Choo and the ineffectiveness of his predecessors. Hamilton has already brought a lot of excitement to Reds fans and the way things are shaping up it appears that he's only just begun.

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