BLUF: Speed demon with top-of-the-order and up-the-middle impact potential.
The Player: Billy Hamilton (SS, Cincinnati Reds) – Selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 draft. Signed quickly and appeared in 43 games for the rookie-level GCL Reds. Hit .205/.253/.277 in debut. Posted much-improved .318/.383/.456 line with rookie-level Billings in 2010, swiping 48 bases in 69 games while also poking 13 doubles and ten triples. Got off to a rough start in 2011 but finished with a .278/.340/.360 mark in 135 games. Stole an impressive 103 bases in the process while also walking 52 times and striking out 133. Off to a blazing start in the California League this year, hitting .402/.481/.598 through games of May 1st. Has already swiped 29 bases in just 24 games and has 12 extra-base hits after just 30 all of last year.
Basis of Report: Personal Observation (MWL 2011), Industry Contacts
Body (6-0, 165): Very thin. May be shorter than listed height. Plus-plus athlete was a Division I football recruit as a wide receiver. Lacks strength throughout body and doesn’t have a lot of room to add strength in the coming years. Body fits his game. Classic burner body.
Hit: Drastic improvement since beginning of 2011 season. Previously showed inconsistent swing mechanics with a lot of hand movement and some delay getting the bat to the zone. Has quieted his setup and load, and now gets the bat to the zone much more consistently. Has average to a tick above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate. Improved ability for solid contact to all fields from both sides. Needs to stay within himself at the plate and not get power hungry. Approach can get overly aggressive at times and he needs to improve pitch recognition on secondary pitches. Will always run out extra hits which should help him hit for higher averages. Needs to improving bunting to fully develop the hitting ability his speed can support. Potential to push upwards of a .300 average in peak seasons and hit at the top of a big league order. Grade – 40/70
Power: Not part of his game. Lacks the strength and bat speed to drive the ball. Speed can generate extra-base hits but will not drive the ball to the gaps or over the fence consistently. Doubles and triples from speed will make power look a little better than grades. Grade (raw power) – 20/30
Arm: Fringy arm at shortstop. Can make most throws for the position but really has to get on it to make the tough/long throws. Loses accuracy and velocity on the run. Arm is stretched at shortstop but can play at second base and would play in the outfield. Grades ranged from 40 to 50 over the last two years, will likely settle with a fringe-average arm that could play up if he better learns how to use it in game situations. Grade – 40/50
Fielding: Speed gives him incredible range to both sides at shortstop. The same was true at second base in 2010. Lacks the instincts for shortstop and his actions aren’t fluid. Hands are below-average. Tendency to make some routine plays more difficult because of lack of instincts or not catching it cleanly and on the proper hop. Many scouts would prefer to see him in center field where his speed could be a defensive weapon. If at shortstop, would likely remain a below- to fringe-average defender at the position. Grade – 30/40 (shortstop)
Speed: Absolutely elite. Fastest player in the minor leagues, and it’s not even close. True burner that gets out of the box quickly and has even better top end speed. Can turn routine grounders into base hits. A threat to take over any game with his legs. Can scoring chances almost at will. Instincts have improved since signing and he now gets good jumps off both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. Brilliant runner whose legs could have a 1980s style impact on the game. Grade – 80/80
Summation: Improvements with the bat look significant and maintainable. Potential .290+ hitter with enough on-base ability to wreak havoc on any opposing team. Could cause chaos at the top of the lineup. Needs more well-rounded and consistent small-ball game to help take further advantage of his speed. Elite, elite runner with instincts to let it play to the max. Shortstop defense is still rough and doesn’t project to improve arm strength, instincts or hands enough to stick there long term. Could be an impact defensive player in center field. Has the swagger of an elite player. Plays the game hard and works hard before/after games. Potential to impact the game on both sides of the ball thanks to elite speed.
Relative Risk: High. Everything rides on the sustainment of his hitting ability and the health of his legs. Any deterioration in either could destroy his prospect stock.
Future: Hamilton could see Double-A before the end of the 2012 season. Defensive development will be what holds him back and the development of his bat may force his move to second base or center field. Could be ready for big league action by 2014 and could hit atop the Reds order for quite a while.