Deep Impact: Billy Hamilton

If starting Billy Hamilton guaranteed your team would win steals, where would you draft him? It would be arguable Hamilton is the best fantasy baseball prospect in the minor leagues, if that were the case. As everyone knows, the Cincinnati Reds shortstop has already surpassed the 100 steal mark, and season isn’t yet half way over. But – come on, you knew this was coming – there are still a few questions surrounding Hamilton.

How legitimate is his stolen base total? Hamilton is incredibility fast and a talented base stealer, but pause for a second and consider his numbers in context. He’s in High-A, which means Billy’s stolen base numbers can be attributed to, in part, the opposing battery. Generally, minor leaguer pitchers are terrible at keeping runners close to the bag and catchers are almost as bad at throwing them out. As he is promoted, expect the opposition to slow Hamilton down. It may take until he reaches the majors before his ability to steal is challenged, but it will be. He’ll steal a lot of bases, but it would be shocking if reached triple digits.

How much will he get on-base? Every speedster has been told by a coach, “son, you can’t steal first base.” And unless the rules of baseball change, Hamilton’s development will need to continue to progress. Hamilton is fantastic at utilizing his speed to aid his on-base ability. He’s adept at keeping the ball on the ground and bunting for base hits but, he isn’t a slasher. Because of his speed, his BABIP should always be above league average, especially on ground balls.  However, plus speed can be extremely effective against shoddy minor league defenders, masking deficiencies. Hamilton has developed at an unbelievable rate in the past year with the bat, and hopefully that will continue.  Even if it does, you should expect his BABIP to decrease as opposing defenders become more competent.

Walks may not be important in your league, but every walk is another opportunity for Hamilton to steal one or two bases. Hamilton’s sound approach has helped him pile up walks this year while maintaining an equally impressive contact rate. The contact rate shouldn’t erode too significantly, but the walks will. Advanced pitchers will not be afraid to challenge the slender, powerless switch hitter, which will take a toll on his walk rate.

Where will he play? Every scout I’ve spoken to has little confidence Hamilton will remain at short, with some calling for him to move to the outfield when he’s called up to Double-A. While a position change is premature in my eyes (what is the rush?), a shift right on the defensive spectrum to center field will require more from Hamilton’s bat.

As far as carry tools go, speed is pretty overrated on it’s own. Moreover, it tends to create misleading results in the minor leaguers’ box scores. But, luckily for Hamilton, he’s got strong contact ability too. Those two tools alone are enough to make him a fantasy asset, even if he’s forced to the outfield. Will he win steals for your team on his own? Maybe, but his on-base could be an obstacle. Friend, new colleague Fangraphs-THT (yay!), and Oliver creator Brian Cartwright told me Oliver projected a peak performance of .258/.319/.343 or a .298 wOBA with 75 SB for Hamilton. That’s too light on the batting average for my taste, but it’s far more realistic than many are pegging him for given his current California League campaign. The steals seem dead on too, if you assume he’ll have about 250 opportunities to steal after being allotted 700 plate appearances.

By all accounts Hamilton is a hard worker. His development this year is a testament to that, and it’s wise to be optimistic about his future. Just be realistic. If you’re hoping for Jose Reyes, you will be disappointed. But, if you can sacrifice a handful of home runs and RBI in the outfield, Hamilton could be a key piece in a title run on to of being fantasy baseball’s biggest game-changer.

Some video Bullpen Banter’s Steve Fiorindo shot earlier this year:

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

25 Responses to “Deep Impact: Billy Hamilton”

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  1. GoHabsGo says:

    So is it safe to say that the Reds will NOT have him in the big leagues this season?

    Should I hold on to him in a non-keeper league?

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  2. Colin P says:

    One thing that slowed Hamilton’s development before this year is that he learned to switch hit after turning pro. I wonder if that leaves a little more projection in his bat because he has yet to tap the full potential of hitting from the left side?

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    • Skob says:

      Awesome info! Very interesting point. Makes sense that his BABIP and average have been boosted this year by establishing himself from the left side. His improvement in average from last year seemed like it was more than just luck and skill improvement, but this was the first time I had heard of him becoming a switch hitter just recently.

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      • Colin P says:

        Thanks. I think he started switch hitting a couple of years ago, he went with the Reds out of high school instead of going SEC football. Took him a bit to get through Low A Dayton but he’s probably heading to AA after the Futures Game next week. Realistically he’s in AAA to start next year, especially if he has to learn CF.

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  3. Josh says:

    Billy Hamilton is in the Hall. Held the stolen bases record before Lou Brock (and then Henderson) broke it. This kid sounds like the reincarnation of that guy (except B.H. senior hit .400 a couple of seasons as I recall).

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  4. Brett S says:

    What are his chances to make an impact next year? If he can be kept for $1 in a keeper league for only next year, is it worth it?



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    • Jake says:

      No. At the absolute earliest, he’s a 2013 September callup. He’s got a lot of minors to work through before he’s worth rostering.

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  5. KJ says:

    If anyone will be the first player to steal 1st base, it’s Billy Hamilton.

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  6. JimNYC says:

    Let me just say that I was horrifically confused at first by this article, because I’ve never heard of this prospect. I have, however, of course heard of Slidin’ Billy Hamilton, Hall of Famer and stealer of over 100 major-league bases each year from 1889-1891 (and almost did it again in 1894, when he stole 98 bases and scored 192 runs in 129 games).

    It’s just… really random that there’s a prospect who’s known for stealing bases who shares the exact same name with a Hall of Famer whose best skill was stealing bases.

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  7. Jason says:

    Wow, he’s fast out of the box. Better defense will challenge him, but he won’t need to hit the ball out of the park to do plenty of damage. I’d say a 3 digit steal total is unlikely unless there’s more to his bat than seems so far, but not out of the question.

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  8. Andrew says:

    Watch that video at 5:05. I can’t believe how fast he turns on 2B. I swear he’s on screen for less than a second.

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  9. Dip-Dop says:

    Seen the guy play short this season three times and he is quite decent. He has good range, not great glove and will overthrow more than he should to first, Double play ability is not there (but that’s a learning thing). But, I don’t see the move to outfield as necessary either. He won’t win a gold glove at short, but could see him being Elvis Andrus quality at short or at least equal to fielding by Cozart. Better than Dee Gordon for sure and no one shifted him over?

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    • JD Sussman says:

      Andrus is a superb defender and Hamilton isn’t in his class, honestly. And the Dodgers infatuation with Gordon doesn’t really speak to Hamilton’s ability to stick at shortstop. Just because they are acting foolish (I would only keep starting Gordon at SS while he’s making the lg minimum, FWIW), doesn’t give other teams the right to do so.

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  10. Josh says:

    I think people are underestimating his ability to hit triple digits in the ML. I mean Coleman did it, and he “only” took 145 bases over a full season in the minors.

    Let’s say he projects for 80-90 stolen bases and .260 avg, 2 home runs.. is he a first round pick in roto leagues?

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    • jcxy says:

      until he shows an ability to post a >.320 obp over 400 or 500 ML ABs…probably not.

      however, if he has a colemanesque 1985, then yeah…1986 he’s probably a top 24 pick.

      although part of this also depends on how dee gordon develops. hamilton won’t definitively win you 1.5 categories if gordon develops into a player who steals 70 bases who scores a ton of runs.

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  11. Omar says:

    My team blows and I’m pretty much in the basement, dynasty league with inflation and a cap…I have him on my team since he’s cheap and my team’s a mess anyways, keep him and hope for the best? It’s not like I’ll can otherwise assemble a good team.

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    • Jason says:

      Depends on if you can find someone who is a true believer or not. If you can move him for a solid keeper who you believe in more to contribute for your team, or who you think their stock will rise so you can parlay that into more solid players, then moving him could be a good idea. If no one is going to pay for his potential (which, given the unsexy nature of a hitter with little power, and the results of Dee Gordon this year, seems likely), then you’re probably better off keeping him.

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  12. Stan Gable says:

    ‘Every scout I’ve spoken to..’

    Yeah, ok.

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  13. Wantsbs says:

    So is it worth adding him to a roster in a keeper league which allows me to hang on to him for three years in the last rounds? He would be one of three keepers.

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  14. Kilgore says:

    So…He’s Dee Gordon lite? I couldn’t imagine Dee Gordon any lighter than he already is…

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    • Babe Ruth says:

      No, look at his #’s and his improvements. Listen to the scouts and former players coaching him in the minors. Hamilton has shown patience and the ability to take walks. Someone has to rain on the hamilton parade, you found it.

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