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Bernie On The Scene: Hamilton Running to Cincinnati

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

I spent this past weekend at Coors Field watching the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim destroy the Colorado Rockies.

The catalyst for the Angels was Mike Trout. The same Mike Trout that looked tired and worn down during this past Arizona Fall League. The same Mike Trout that had a virus as well as a shoulder injury this past spring training and barely played.

The Mike Trout I saw at Coors was playing with his feet on fire. He would smack a ball somewhere in the huge outfield for a single, steal second and possibly third and score. His speed was electric. He almost beat out a routine grounder to the shortstop. Almost, but not quite.

At breakfast Sunday, general manager Jerry Dipoto was talking about his team. A couple of the guys at the table hadn't seen Peter Bourjos play. Dipoto indicated it would be a great race between Trout and Bourjos. Bourjos has indicated he is faster than Trout. Many believe that to be the case. If you've seen them both run, imagine what their outfield will be when they play together. It could happen as soon as next year. Actually, believe it or not, I think Bourjos might beat Trout in a race. I'm not saying that with certainty. I've watched them both over and over and they both can fly.

Why am I writing all this? Because Reds prospect Billy Hamilton is faster than both of them. Hamilton is regarded as the fastest man currently playing professional baseball. I've seen the speed.

Speed kills. Speed generates runs. Speed propels quiet innings into rallies. Speed changes games offensively and defensively. Speed creates defensive errors when fielders have to make quicker throws and faster moves to the ball. Speed allows runners to advance bases when they shouldn't, steal bases when they shouldn't be able to and score from first on the right hit to the gap. Speed is an incredible weapon that not all teams deploy. Some teams do it better than others. The Angels use speed like a 10th player on the field.

Currently playing shortstop at High-A Bakersfield Hamilton is beyond description. He is a 3.6-second runner from home to first from the left-handed batter's box. Ichiro was 3.7 in his prime. Bourjos and Trout are in the 3.8 to 3.87 (at the highest) range when they turn on the burners. Mickey Mantle is said to have been the fastest home to first at a mind boggling 3.1 left-handed and 3.2-3.3 right-handed. I never saw that with my own eyes, but the records of his speed certainly exist and are repeated in print often. Can you imagine that speed? But that was Mantle on good legs. Hamilton is a blurrrr.

It will be his speed that propels Hamilton to the big leagues. He is beginning to hit with more consistency and his offensive game is beginning to become much more complete, but he will be known for his speed.

Think of what Hamilton will do at the top of the Reds batting order! If he continues his improved walk rate and if his on-base percentage is anything close to his current .405 with Bakersfield, he will be a tough act to stop.

Billy Hamilton is from the hamlet of Taylorsville, Mississippi, a town of less than 1,400 residents and 3.7 total square miles. He went to the same high school as Bears backup quarterback Jason Campbell.

Selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 first-year player draft, Hamilton is a switch-hitting 6-foot-1 inch, 160-pound athlete.

Some think he will be like Jose Reyes. Some feel he is Tony Fernandez with speed. Some vision him as Hanley Ramirez or even Ricky Henderson. Frankly, I don't see any of those comparisons. Yet!

For me, Hamilton is unique. He doesn't have the raw power of Henderson or Ramirez. He is faster than Fernandez. He may be closest to Reyes, but even that may not be fair. To Reyes. I think Hamilton is going to have to continue to work very hard on his offensive game to sustain enough on-base percentage and utilize his greatest asset. As we have all found out, it is impossible to steal first base. And up until this season, getting on base has been a bit of a problem for Hamilton.

In 2011 for example, Hamilton had an on-base percentage of .340. He struck out 133 times in 610 plate appearances and walked 52 times. Already this season, Hamilton has drawn 34 walks and struck out only 47 times. That's tremendous contact and patience improvement over half a season at a higher classification. If nothing else improves in his game (homers, extra base hits, etc.) the patience and contact improvement are exciting signs. And that's not even to mention that his batting average to date is .320 at Bakersfield as opposed to his final mark of .278 at Low-A Dayton last season. Oh, and by the way, Hamilton has scored 54 runs so far - a very high total for not quite half a season. That's what teams pay for offensively. Runs. Scoring them or driving them in.

The eye-popper is still the 71 stolen bases while being caught only 14 times this season. Last year? Hamilton stole 103 bases while being nabbed 20 times. You'd take that on your fantasy team, wouldn't you?

Here's the exciting part about Hamilton's base stealing; he really hasn't learned how to run the bases. He hasn't been exposed to the mechanics and technique of base stealing on a day in and day out basis. The nuances of stealing bases will be a focal point of his instruction as his level of play increases and more coaching time is dedicated to him personally. That will happen. If he thinks he's learning now, he'll get even more attention as he progresses in the system.

Defensively, Hamilton has shown a very quick first step and good range to both sides. Scouts are concerned with his hands and with his arm strength and accuracy. The criticism comes from him not showing smooth, soft hands that would glide the ball to the glove. Of course, that is in the eye of the beholder. The real rub comes on inaccurate throws.

Last year at Dayton, he made 39 errors playing shortstop in 132 games. So far this season, he has 16 errors in 56 games. That's too many. In 2010 at Billings in the rookie league he played both second base and shortstop.

So where should Hamilton play for the Reds? If it were my call, he would play center field. I think he has the perfect athletic ability to play that position. He has the speed to cover ground in any ballpark. He has the speed to play shallow and stop the short blooper type hits while getting back in time for the long blasts. He may not have the best arm, but it will play well enough. Certainly if the club feels he has the arm to play shortstop, he'll have enough arm to hit the cutoff man. It will be accuracy of the throws that could be a concern.

I am a huge Zack Cozart fan. I believe he will become an offensive threat while maintaining good defense at a critical position. I don't think his tenure at that spot should be disrupted. While he got off to a slow start this season offensively, I have seen Cozart hit. I have seen the gap power and I think he will get better and better. So Cozart stays at short for me.

Second base? Brandon Phillips is not a fixture forever, but I don't know that Hamilton has the hands to be a solid, every day, effective and efficient second baseman. He has the range. His arm strength is adequate enough to make the throws from second. I just don't think his hands are good enough to be a middle infielder.

Third base? That's a position that requires far more power than Hamilton will show-even if he gains some weight in muscle. Power isn't his game. If he tries to hit home runs, his overall offensive game will suffer. He has to remain a groundball hitting, bunting type hitter to use his speed properly and to his maximum advantage.

How soon until we see Hamilton b(l)urst on the scene playing for the Reds? I don't think it will happen until 2014, if then. I think we will see the Reds convert Hamilton to the outfield soon. He will have to learn a new position, but even if he remains at shortstop, he'll have to repeat his swing, refine his patience as he is doing now and continue to develop as a hitter/defender. He'll have to find comfort at a defensive position, be it shortstop, second base or the outfield.

There is work to do for Billy Hamilton. When he arrives, he will join the Mike Trout's, Peter Bourjos' and other lightning fast players bringing tremendous game changing speed to their respective clubs.

Put Billy Hamilton on your long-term list of potential burners. He'll go quickly in your fantasy league when he begins to sniff a call to Cincinnati.

BUNTS

*I was tremendously impressed again with Tyler Colvin of the Rockies. I think you'll see him playing plenty of first base for them. Less time for Helton/Giambi. More time for Colvin.

*The Angels I saw this past weekend are the Angels I saw in spring training. I don't know how anyone will beat them. Not even the Rangers. The Angels need one more starter --- oh, right. They have Weaver, right? Watch out.

*I'm not an Ervin Santana fan.

*The injury bug has hit the Rangers' pitching staff. What will happen when the weather really heats up? Maybe it will help their sore arms. But how about their groins? Maybe they need more starters.

*The Cardinals have been scuffling. Other than the Angels, they are still the best overall team I've seen this year.

*Having seen enough of Russell Martin, I dropped him last week (15-team mixed, two catchers) before he went nuts at the plate. DVR picked him up.

*For the first time, I am hearing criticism about Charlie Manuel's managing ability. I disagree. I think he's a really solid skipper.

*Get ready for the Wil Myers era in Kansas City (.343/13/30 at Double-A Northwest Arkansas.). It can't be long now. He's just too good. Myers' stay at Omaha could be short.

*I had Paul Goldschmidt everywhere this year. Everywhere. Now he is finally renewing my faith in what I saw last season. He's going to be a monster hitter in two more years.

Bust Of The Week: Rick Porcello. Man, you're killing me.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff and on MLB.com in the Voices section. Oh, and I hope you'll tune in when I'm on with DVR and DDD on Sirius/XM on Wednesday mornings (Noon EST).