Before there was Rickey Henderson, there was Lou Brock. Before there was Lou Brock, there was the original Billy Hamilton. Hamilton played for 14 seasons from 1888 to 1901 and stole 914 bases in his career which included four different seasons of at least 100 stolen bases and hit .344 in his career with a .455 on base percentage. These days, the name, and the game-changing speed is back in professional baseball.
Last September, I wrote a story about minor league stolen base champion Billy Hamilton. In that piece, I made a few notes:
Hamilton did have contact issues this season as he struck out 132 times, but 90 of those came from his un-natural left side in 418 plate appearances while he struck out 40 times from his natural right-handed side. Looking at his batted ball data from the left side, the work in progress is painfully evident. He hit just one-third of his batted balls on the ground while hitting some form of a flyball nearly 45 percent of the time including a 14 percent infield flyball rate. His rates from the other side were just 31 percent overall and he had just a five percent infield fly rate.
When looking at Hamilton's numbers throughout the season, Darren Ford came to mind because he was another blazing speedster with contact issues that became worse as he climbed the ladder in the Milwaukee and San Francisco farm system. On the surface, Hamilton's contact issues are going to scare people off, but consider that after he struck out in 25% of his plate appearances in April and 27% of the time in May, he lowered those rates to 23%, 16%, and 22% over the final three months of the season giving him an overall K% of 22 percent on the season with a nine percent walk rate.
I concluded the piece with this bit of advice:
Let others be discouraged by his strikeouts and feed the flames of the failed speedster comps that are tossed around while you focus on the in-season growth and him growing into his switch-hitting role.
How is all of that working so far? Take a peek at the prospect leaderboard at BaseballProspectus for High-A ball. Yes, Hamilton does have more than twice the steals that anyone else in A-ball has and is third in on-base percentage at that level. My goodness.
To date, his overall slash line is a robust .364/.429/.534 and has 13 extra-base hits in 133 plate appearances, which is well ahead of the 30 extra-base hits that he had in 599 plate appearances last season. The numbers are coming from the California League but his home park in Bakersfield is rather hitting neutral compared to other places in the league.
The growth in Hamilton's numbers show up in a few areas, both with balls in play and balls not in play.
|Pitches per PA||1.8||1.9|
Across the board, Hamilton is showing more patience at the plate than he did last year continuing the progress he made last season in Low-A ball. In most cases, these are not slight improvement; rather, they are noticeable improvements.
Additionally, Hamilton is putting the ball on the ground at the rate that a guy with the best footspeed in baseball right now. We're all familiar with Willie Mays Hayes in Major League where Lou Brown (RIP) makes Hayes do pushups each time that he hits a flyball. Hamilton should be under the same treatment since he can essentially beat out a two-hopper grounder to the left side of the diamond at will. Last season, Hamilton had just a 42 percent groundball rate last season with a 27 percent outfield flyball rate. This season, the outfield flyball rate has not changed but his groundball rate has jumped up to 47 percent this season. Groundballs become hits at greater rates than flyballs, so that is part of Hamilton's success plus the no-brainer fact that his speed is better utilized with those balls in play.
Simply put, this enticing fantasy stud continues to show good progress at the plate. This season, he is hitting .421/.483/.592 from the left side and .262/.326/.429 from the right side. That right side slash line is a step up from the .259/.297/.352 he had last season with a BABIP that is eight points lower than last season. The left-handed slash line speaks to his speed as he hit .292/.364/.371 from that side last season with a .381 BABIP, but is putting up the monster numbers he is right now thanks to a .492 BABIP against right-handed pitching.
When you possess the kind of speed that helps you get to first base in 3.5 seconds on a drag bunt, just putting the ball in play puts the pressure on the defense to get you out. More contact and more groundballs; Hamilton is doing exactly what he needs to do to be a fantasy stud in the future. He is not eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season so there is no need for the Reds to add him to the 40-man roster this season unless they are in a playoff hunt in September and want to utilize him as a modern day Herb Washington.
Lastly, this is how he looked a month ago in the Red Futures game.