The numbers are starting to look silly. You look at them once, then move in closer to make sure your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. With two more stolen bases on June 28, Reds prospect Billy Hamilton now has 94 on the season, including 19 over his last eight games, and a ridiculous 37 in 23 June games. He is also showing a great approach at the plate, a big reason for the absurd stolen base totals. Over his 23 June games, he is hitting .349 with a .488 OBP, including 22 walks to just 16 strikeouts.
After tearing up class-A Dayton last season, stealing 103 bases over 135 games, the Reds knew they had something special in the 6’-1”, 160-pound shortstop. Obviously, stealing bases comes easy to him. He has a gift on the base paths few have ever had in the history of the game. What they wanted more of from him, however, was to get on base more. If he stole 103 bases with a .340 OBP, how many would he steal with a .400 OBP?
One year later, they got their answer. Hamilton has improved dramatically in his ability to get on base and the numbers speak for themselves. After drawing just 52 walks to 133 strikeouts over 135 games last season, he has already drawn 47 walks to 56 strikeouts through 73 games this year. He has upped his OBP 83 points in just one year, now sitting at .423. He is getting better and better as the season goes on, as well, drawing 10 walks to just four strikeouts over his eight games.
With roughly 60 games left on the season, Hamilton needs 52 stolen bases to break Vince Coleman’s minor league record of 145 set in 1983. At his current pace of 1.29 stolen bases per game, he may end up with 180.
While Hamilton has been getting most of the attention in the Red’s system, left-hander Tony Cingrani has been dealing on the mound all season long. He struck out a career-high 15 batters over eight shutout innings on June 28, allowing just three hits and a walk in picking up the win. He is now 7-2 on the season with a 1.47 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 109 K/21 BB over 86 innings.
A third-round pick by the Reds in the 2011 draft out of Rice, Cingrani was thought to be more of a reliever by the organization. He signed early, wanting to show his commitment to the team and to being a starter. Over 13 games at Billings of the Pioneer League, he went 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and an insane 80 strikeouts to just six walks over 51.1 innings. He made the jump to class-A Bakersfield this season, where over 10 starts, he was no match for opposing hitters. He went 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 71 K/13 BB over 56.2 innings before his promotion to double-A Pensacola. He has continued to show off his power arm and pinpoint control of his mid-90s fastball and circle-change by striking out 38 batters to eight walks over 29.1 innings. The 6’-4”, 200-pound 22-year-old could find himself in Cincinnati at some point this season, helping guide the Reds to the playoffs.
The Reds had one of the better team drafts this season, and with the new CBA draft rules allowing players to sign earlier than ever, they are starting to see early returns on their picks. Jesse Winker, their first-round sandwich pick (48th overall) out of Olympia HS in Florida, has started his career at Billings by going 12-for-32 (.375) with three doubles, seven RBI and a .957 OPS over his first nine games. The 6’-3”, 210-pound, left-handed outfielder has enormous power to all fields, as well as a canon arm. Nick Travieso, their first-round pick (18th overall), has yet to begin his pro career but is a 6’-2”, 215-pound right-hander with a plus slider and a fastball that has touched 99 mph. He struck out 70 batters over 46.1 innings as a senior at Archbishop McCarthy HS in Florida and projects to a future workhorse with huge upside.
As good as those two project to be, their second-round pick may end up being the best. Tanner Rahier has an approach to the game unlike many players his age, any age really. He’ll hit baseballs in the batting cage until his hands bleed and probably sleeps with his bat. His workout regimen would make you tired just watching it. He opted to play his high school ball for the ABD Bulldogs in a league that uses wooden bats. No one works harder at improving their game, and because of his dedication, he has very few holes in his game. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, he generates a ton of power from the right side, and his level swing suggests a high average at the next level. He has all the tools to stick at shortstop defensively, with soft hands, quick feet and a strong, accurate arm. His power and size, however, may force him to third base, where his offense, defense and overall approach to the game on and off the field could make him the next Chipper Jones.
In his first game as a pro, he launched a home run over the center-field wall. He added a stolen base and knocked in three runs. He has walked five times over his last three games and, for the season, is hitting .261 (6-for-21) with five RBI for the AZL Reds. Somehow, he was passed over by every team, some more than once. The Reds are currently in first place in the NL Central and looking like legitimate contenders for the World Series this season. With a young, talented team at the major league level, and a bevy of talent in their farm system, Rahier will be a key component to their long-time success and make every other team in baseball pay along the way.