Cincinnati Reds Outfield: Pump the Brakes on Hamilton?

Billy Hamilton is fast. We get it. He swiped 103 bases at Low-A Dayton in 2011. In 2012, he stole 155 bases between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola and then kicked in another 10 during a 17-game stint at the Arizona Fall League. Last season, he put another 75 notches in his belt at Triple-A Louisville, and when he was given his cup of coffee in the bigs, he swiped another 13 bases over the team’s final 13 games. Yeah, he’s pretty darn fast. But while he’s bathing in quickness rivaled only by the Flash, the Roman god Mercury and that little kid from The Incredibles, Hamilton may not be the 2014 fantasy goldmine that everybody seems to think.

While the Reds may have Hamilton penciled in as their starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, there are a number of things that give me pause with regard to drafting him. First off, there’s the obvious question as to whether or not the Reds are going to want to let his arbitration clock start ticking early. Would they not be foregoing an extra year of control by putting him on the Opening Day 25-man roster? The Reds may not be as budget-conscious as the Rays or A’s, but if Hamilton is the game-changer that so many tout him as, then wouldn’t they want to keep things economical for themselves?

Then, of course, there’s the .308 on-base percentage at Triple-A last year. Sure, he posted a mean .400-plus OBP at both Bakersfield and Pensacola, but he posted a .306 on-base percentage during his stint in the AFL and then followed it up with a .256/.308/.343 slash line with a .300 wOBA for Louisville. Is that the outlier or is he having trouble at the plate the tougher the competition gets? If his on-base percentage suffers, will they be happy to leave him installed atop their lineup like a modern day Vince Coleman or do they explore other options? The competition for the center field job, Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker, isn’t that great, but a platoon of the two might not be the worst thing in the world, at least for the first two months while Hamilton either proves or disproves his worth in the minors.

And finally, let’s talk about his ADP. In the NFBC, he’s the 22nd outfielder off the board with a 77.05 mark. He’s at 69.66 over at Mock Draft Central and in other mocks I’ve done, I’ve seen him go as high as 53rd overall. In Monday’s FanGraphs mock, he was at 108, but that was still the sixth round of an 18-team draft. Even if you firmly believe that he will open the 2014 season in the majors and that his ability can win you the stolen base category all by himself, that’s still a pretty steep price to pay for a guy who will contribute in just two categories. Especially when you consider how abundant stolen bases have been over the last couple of seasons.

This isn’t to say that Hamilton won’t have an impact on the 2014 season, because he certainly will once he’s playing regularly. But be careful what you pay for him and be sure to follow every move of his this spring. He could be a ridiculously valuable commodity, but there’s certainly no guarantee that the value isn’t just a wee bit further down the road.

As for the rest of the Reds outfield, it’s much more simple. Jay Bruce is the starting right fielder and, despite the fact that, over the last two seasons, the walk rate is declining while the strikeouts are increasing, he’s still banging 30-plus home runs and there’s no one ready to supplant him. He still struggles against left-handed pitching and the significant drop in his fly ball rate might bear monitoring, but in a time when 30-homer guys no longer grow on trees (or in laboratory Petri dishes), he’s worth the grab in the early rounds of your draft.

Over in left field, we’ve got the return of Ryan Ludwick, whose 2013 season was decimated by an Opening Day shoulder injury. He eventually made it back to appear in 38 games last year, but the numbers weren’t good, nor do they pose an accurate representation of his abilities. Now fully healed and an entire winter to rebuild the strength, he should be able to return to the 20-home run power we’ve seen from him in the recent past. Steamer and fan projections appear to be pretty similar and given his walk and strikeout rates coupled with his usual plate discipline numbers, there’s little reason to believe that they aren’t a fair assessment. A mid-to late round selection seems about right this season.

We touched on the back-ups already and there really isn’t much to say about either of them. Heisey has some decent power potential, but his plate discipline is a bit shaky. Schumaker’s career .344 on-base percentage is decent, but with no power or speed, he’s better suited as a platoon partner and/or defensive replacement. Again, the lack of competition could be what keeps Hamilton up with the big club regardless of his spring performance, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in March.




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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at rotobuzzguy@gmail.com


26 Responses to “Cincinnati Reds Outfield: Pump the Brakes on Hamilton?”

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  1. Bobby Melody says:

    What was the noise last year about Billy Hamilton’s numbers in AAA? Was it because he made a position change and his batting suffered? If he has a decent OBP, I think he will rattle the opposing pitchers which will help the rest of the lineup.
    Votto will walk a lot if Hamilton gets on, steals second, and 1st base is open.

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    • Kurt says:

      yeah, cuz votto doesn’t walk enough already…

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    • Freddy T says:

      Given his speed and subsequent range, it doesn’t seem like the move from short to center would be so distracting that it would affect his batting that much throughout the entire season.

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    • Steven says:

      He got challenged inside with fastballs much more consistently than in the past and he didn’t handle it very well. Also, he unexpectedly didn’t maintain a babip around .390. Prospect evaluators agreed his 2012 was a mirage and the conversation has rightfully returned to whether he has the potential to become a 70ish wRC+ hitter or a 90ish wRC+ hitter.

      As you can tell, I’m not a huge supporter of Hamilton as a premium prospect. However, I think everyone agrees he’s not going to be a very good hitter. Of course, his base running and projected defense could still allow him to be a 4 WAR player with a 90 wRC+.

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  2. Keeper Value says:

    10-team $260 auction league. Is Hamilton worth keeping at $4 for the upside?

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  3. Dwezil says:

    I had heard he also started switch hitting last year. That’s a lot of changes to throw at a guy in one year against the best competition he has ever faced.

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  4. snarf says:

    The Reds are raving about this defense. Even if he has a sub 0.300 OBP he’ll be in the lineup. Zack Cozart is living proof of that.

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  5. RMR says:

    There’s definitely reason for caution with Hamilton. As you point out, playing isn’t exactly guaranteed and our perceptions regarding the scarcity of SB may be off a bit. Furthermore, a tweaked hammy or ankle and his value is gone.

    But I wonder… For the sake of discussion, let’s say Hamilton gets 600 PA and hits something like .270/.320/.360 with 5 HR, 40 RBI, 90 Runs and 100 SB. Call it his 95th percentile projection. What kind of draft spot/ auction value would that justify?

    Obviously I’m not suggesting we value him based on that line, but I think one of the reasons his spots seem high is that his distribution of possible seasons is pretty extreme. Or put differently, compared to the guys who are drafted around him, say Starling Marte or Alfonso Soriano, could it be argued that Hamilton’s upside is just so much higher that it becomes a bit more a question of risk tolerance than typical marginal “value”?

    This would seem particularly true in a dynasty league where the value of “black swan” players is greater.

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    • Jose says:

      I don’t think people are drafting him for his upside. I think he is being drafted as an amazing one category producer. If you grab him early, then you don’t have to chase stolen bases the rest of the draft and you get more options for roster construction. Of course, with all the SBs available late, I’m not sure this is a good idea.

      Also, the hype probably affects his ADP.

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      • RotoworldModsAreNazis says:

        One gigantic potential problem with such an approach is that if you bank on getting 80+% of any given category from a single source, an injury sinks you in that category because you likely didn’t draft another significant source of that category.

        I think this guy is going WAY WAY too high. There’s no chance in hell I draft him where he’s going right now (6th round).

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  6. Adam says:

    Keeper league and one can only keep one of Billy Hamilton and Oscar Taveras (to be kept at the same price). Whom does one keep?

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    • Howard Bender says:

      Tough one actually. I think Hamilton has the more immediate impact this season as the Cards continue to find ways to get Taveras into the lineup. Long-term though, I like Taveras because he’s a more all-around player. Hamilton has killer speed and could win you steals on his own, but Taveras should mix in power and a decent average as well as grab a dozen stolen bases.

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    • jim says:

      Adam, extremely easy answer here. Keep Bham for $1. His draft day value is likely to be >20 on the open market, no? O-Tav will probably be < 20. So if you like OT a lot, go ahead and draft him as well, he will be alot more affordable on the open mkt.

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  7. tylersnotes says:

    in points formats, where on base ability and XBH are worth a lot more than SB, what’s Hamilton’s ceiling? I’ve seen him graded with an average hit tool which makes me hopeful he can grow more valuable, and I could see him turning enough singles into doubles to provide some value there. Looking at 2014 and beyond, does he have a profile to ever be more than a 4th OF in leagues of that format?

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  8. Allan says:

    Vince Coleman’s rookie line

    g AB R H 2b 3b HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS WAR
    151 636 107 170 20 10 1 40 50 115 110 25 .267 .320 .335 .655 2.3

    A man can dream…..

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  9. Brad Johnson says:

    My take on drafting Hamilton is that he’s a high priced gamble. Yea, he probably won’t be a fantasy asset next season, but all he has to do is squeak by as the leadoff hitter in order to auto-win a category.

    There aren’t too many circumstances where I would draft him, but they do exist. In that 18 team mock, I was getting ready to take him when he got snagged.

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  10. Jerry says:

    Hamilton came cheaer than Campbell and May develope into a super find. If he learns to switch hit and drag bunts.

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