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Billy Hamilton Debuts, Will Major League Basepaths Ever be the Same?

Billy Hamilton made his long-awaited Major League debut Tuesday night, scoring the lone run in the Reds’ 1-0 victory over the Cardinals. Hamilton came on as a pinch runner for Ryan Ludwick in the seventh inning, stole second off none other than Yadier Molina and came around to score on a single by Todd Frazier.

Fantasy baseball nuts are well aware of Hamilton. His speed potential takes you back a couple years to the days when a young Carl Crawford or a (younger) Juan Pierre could win you the category all by themselves. That comparison could be selling Hamilton short, since Pierre topped off at 68 steals and Crawford plateaued at 60.

Hamilton’s speed and potential ability to disrupt a game on the basepaths could take us back even further, to the days of Ricky Henderson, Tim Raines, Willie Wilson and Vince Coleman when guys stealing 90, 100 bases wasn’t a statistical rarity. (Of course most teams don’t put a value on the risk/reward potential of a steal anymore as they did in the Astroturf infused go-go 80s.)

In 2011, at Class A Dayton, Hamilton stole 103 bases in 135 games. Last year, across two levels, he stole a record 155 bases in 132 games, although he was caught 37 times. This season at Class AAA Louisville Hamilton stole 75 in 123 games, caught 15 times and slowed down by his paltry .308 on-base percentage. His weak offensive line in the International League (.256/.308/.343) is part of the reason why he wasn’t called up until September.

But with the rosters expanded this month, expect Hamilton to run a lot — mostly as a pinch runner. His speed is dynamic, especially late in close games, but it’s likely not going to be enough to help the Reds overcome a 3.5 game deficit in the NL Central. In the playoffs, likely the Wild Card elimination game, Hamilton’s speed could be a weapon for Dusty Baker whether it be it stealing a base, scoring from second on a single, or tagging up on a shallow fly ball. Beyond that, the opposing pitcher (likely a reliever at that point in the game) is going to have to change up his routine and focus on Hamilton if he’s standing on first base.

Doubt Hamilton? Check out the speed in some of these minor league highlights:

Maybe Hamilton is the player to take us back to the freewheeling days of the 1980s … assuming he can figure out a way to get on first base.

Related: MLB Contracts: Five Young Players in Line for Big Paydays

 

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