There he was Tuesday night. He’s no more than six feet tall, wearing number six. A number worn by notables who have gone before: Drew Stubbs, Ryan Freel, Jose Guillen, Benito Santiago, Ron Gant, Johnny Edwards, Ed Bailey and Babe Herman.
One thing is clear, Billy Hamilton might be the best to ever wear the number in Cincinnati. Why? Because he has just raised the bar for baserunning.
Billy Hamilton was chosen by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. In five seasons as a professional ball player in the Reds farm system, he has managed to steal 395 bases, a record, to say the least, in the Reds organization. On August 21, 2012, nearing the end of the season, Hamilton stole his 146th base for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, surpassing MLB great Vince Coleman. He finished the year with 155 stolen bases, a double-A best.
Before 2013 season, the Mississippi native was rated 33rd best prospect according to Through the Fence Baseball. He was the 11th best prospect according to MLB.com and the 20th best in Baseball America.
At the ripe age of 22, Hamilton joined the Reds on Monday against the St. Louis Cardinals, and he saw his first MLB action as a pitch runner for Ryan Ludwig on Tuesday night. Like many predicted, he stole his first base as a major leaguer off Yadier Molina, and he later scored on a Todd Fraizer double. Wednesday night was more of the same. Hamilton pinch ran for Ludwig, stole second and scored on a Zack Cozart single to center. In two days, Hamilton has two steals and two runs and he has yet to record an at-bat.
Scouting reports put 80 grades on Hamilton’s speed (20-80 scouting scale) — it’s the best a player can achieve. Most scouts and analysists have declared Hamilton as possibly being the fastest player to ever take the field.
How fast is Billy Hamilton? We can easily put him up against other players, and his speed would be easier to measure than that of hitting, hitting for power, arm strength or even fielding. Right now, Hamilton will roam the base paths in a somewhat of a depressed era for steals. The last 100-base stealer was in 1987. Coleman, with St. Louis, was the leading man. This was an era when Ricky Henderson owned the base paths, so the competition was fierce. Since the ’80s, the league’s leaders have stayed between 40 and 70 stolen bases a year. Hamilton could change this.
So, let’s compare speed for speed. We’ll take Coleman and Henderson in the ’80s. We’ll look at their first three seasons on the farm, since both were called up more in their fourth seasons quite a bit after that. Like Hamilton, Coleman and Henderson were 20-80 runners. All three were predominately injury-free their first three seasons in the lower levels.
Player Games SB CS Ave.
Rickey Henderson ‘76-78 313 205 57 1.53
Vince Coleman ‘82-84 323 289 70 1.12
Billy Hamilton ‘09-11 247 175 32 1.41
Taking the above into consideration, and rationalizing their attempts versus outs when stealing:
- Henderson was caught stealing every five attempts.
- Coleman was caught stealing every five attempts.
- Hamilton was caught stealing every six attempts, but very close to seven.
Now, of course, we didn’t consider the leagues or teams they were on or the talent they faced. I mean these are different eras. However, each has a similar scouting report. The only thing that shows a little difference is that Hamilton was more versatile in the field, as he can play infield as well and is a switch hitter, like Coleman. But that isn’t a determination on his speed versus the other two stars.
How fast is Hamilton? Extremely fast, but we don’t really have the right measurements to quantify it. What we do know is that Hamilton steals a lot and can change a game while doing so, much like Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays did when they were on base. This is something to think about and look forward to.