Reds prospect Billy Hamilton: Superstar, superhero

Billy Hamilton is running his way into the record books (Michael Chang/Getty Images)

This is turning into quite the phenomenon. It seems every night, baseball fans run to their computers, check their phones, iPads, and any other electronic device at hand to jump on Twitter, or scroll through the box scores to see what Reds prospect Billy Hamilton did. The question running through one’s mind while checking isn’t did he steal a base, it’s how many did he steal?

Hamilton is chasing a record that seemed out of reach, especially in this era of baseball where the stolen base, while quietly making a comeback, is still nowhere near utilized as it was 30 years ago. B-Ham is single-handedly bringing small ball back, even if it is on the minor league level. As I write this, he is currently sitting on 143 swipes for the season, just two off Vince Coleman’s record of 145 set in 1983 —  and that could change before this sentence is finished.

He has been the most electric player in the minors this season. The Minor League Player of the Year award is probably in the mail already, and DC Comics may be working on resurrecting forgotten superhero, Flash, with Hamilton as the lead. In fact, the only person who isn’t appreciating the season he has had is probably Earl Weaver.

To understand just how amazing this season has been for the 6’-1”, 160-pound speedster from Taylorsville, Mississippi, here is some perspective:

  • Including Saturday, Hamilton has now stolen a base in 84 of the 118 games he has played this season.
  • Angels super-rookie, Mike Trout, leads the majors in stolen bases with 39. Hamilton stole 39 bases in June alone.
  • Hamilton has stolen third base 41 times, two more than Trout’s season stolen base total.
  • Hamilton has 40 multi-stolen bases games, 13 games with three or more, four with four or more and one five-stolen-bases game this season.
  • Hamilton has more stolen bases than the Orioles (38), Tigers (43) and Pirates (55) combined, as well as more than any team in the majors.
  • From May 22 to June 4, Hamilton stole at least one base in 13 straight games, 23 in total.

He is no one-hit wonder. Last season, he set a goal to swipe 100 bases, something that hadn’t been done since 2001 when Chris Morris stole 111 with class-A Peoria of the Midwest League, then a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate. He ended with 103 over 135 games.

He isn’t just a one trick pony, either. The 21-year-old switch-hitter has improved his all-around game drastically from last year to now. Even with the 103 steals, his .278 batting average, .340 OBP and 52 BB/133 K over 135 games wasn’t good enough for a future lead-off hitter at the next level, not of his talent. Over his 118 games this year, he has already drawn 75 walks, good for a .411 OBP. He is hitting .315 with 21 doubles, 13 triples, two home runs, 42 RBI and an .840 OPS. All he has to do is get on base and he disrupts the entire flow of the game, as he’ll end up on third in the blink of an eye if the pitcher himself blinks.

No one in the majors has stolen 80 bases in a season since 1988 when both Coleman (81) and all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson (93), both achieved the feat. In Hamilton’s 36 games since his promotion to double-A Pensacola, he hasn’t skipped a beat against better competition, hitting .295 with 39 stolen bases, 25 walks and a .406 OBP. The long season isn’t slowing him down, either, as he has 25 stolen bases over his last 16 games, and is also hitting .395 (15-for-38) over his last 10 games. His progression this year, along with a talent no one else in the majors possesses, should earn him a spot on the roster out of spring training next season. With a full-season of playing time, he could steal 80 bases running backwards.

At his current pace of 1.21 steals per game, and still 16 games left on the Blue Wahoos’ schedule, Hamilton could realistically end up with over 160 steals. If you’re gonna break a record, might as well put it out of reach. That’s probably what Coleman was thinking 29 years ago. Good luck to the next challenger. It definitely won’t be Hamilton, as he will be running toward Henderson’s major-league record of 130 stolen bases set in 1982.

If you follow him on Twitter at @b_ham_3, you know what a down-to-earth, fun-loving guy he appears to be. He enjoys the attention, constantly re-tweeting praise from his followers, but doesn’t seek it out. If Vince Coleman and his record never existed, he would still be at the same number of steals he is at now. Billy Hamilton isn’t chasing anything. He is just playing the game he loves, the way he loves to.

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