PENSACOLA, FL - AUGUST 21: Billy Hamilton #4 of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos smiles as manager Jim Riggleman #8 congratulates him after breaking the minor league record of stolen bases against the Montgomery Biscuits at Community Maritime Park Stadium on August 21, 2012 in Pensacola, Florida. Billy Hamilton broke the minor league record with 146 stolen bases. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
Cincinnati Reds Prospect Billy Hamilton Sets Stolen Base Record
The big news in the baseball prospect universe tonight revolves around Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect Billy Hamilton, who broke Vince Coleman's minor league record by stealing his 147th base tonight for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos. This was his 43rd steal in 38 games since being promoted to Double-A; he'd swiped 104 in 82 games for High-A Bakersfield.
Hamilton hit .323/.413/.439 with 50 walks and 70 strikeouts in 337 at-bats for Bakersfield, followed by a .306/.427/.425 line with 29 walks and 31 strikeouts in 134 at-bats for Pensacola. Overall, he's hitting .318/.417/.435 this year with 21 doubles, 14 triples, two homers, 79 walks, and the 147 thefts.
I'm frequently asked what kind of player Hamilton will be in the majors. The fact that he's continued to hit well in Double-A is a good sign. Unlike many speed demon types, he understands that you can't steal first base, and while he lacks power, he's willing to work his way on via walk if the pitcher doesn't give him something good to hit. With his unworldly speed, it seems reasonable that he can maintain a high BABIP. Interestingly enough, scouts say that Hamilton's actual stealing technique is still raw; he relies mostly on his speed. If he refines that..., well, he's already stealing at an 80% success percentage.
When dealing with a unique player like Billy Hamilton, projections become even more difficult than normal. One reader asked me if Hamilton would turn out like Dee Gordon, who has stolen 54 bases in 134 career major league games, but posted a weak .261/.299/.316 line overall in his major league time with the Dodgers. That's possible, but Hamilton is even faster than Gordon, works counts better, and has a bit more juice in his bat. He should be better.
Hamilton is the fastest player I've seen in person since Vince Coleman; he's certainly the fastest currently playing. A Vince Coleman-like career would be the minimum I'd expect from Hamilton. That may sound like a criticism, but it's not, not at all.
While Coleman wasn't a great player all things considered, he did lead the National League in steals six times and posted a positive WAR value every season he was used as a regular, finishing with a career WAR of 13.2. His best years were 1990 (.292/.340/.400, 77 steals, 3.5 WAR), 1985 (.267/.320/.355, 110 steals, 2.7 WAR), and 1987 (.289/.363/.358, 109 steals, 2.6 WAR). He wasn't a superstar, but he was a useful player and was, I think, unfairly maligned at times.
I don't see why Hamilton can't be at least as good as Coleman was, and possibly much more valuable than that, especially if he can handle the middle infield long-term.