Steals king Billy Hamilton eager for shot with the Reds

Associated PressAugust 27, 2012 

PEARL, Miss. — Every muscle is twitching as Billy Hamilton inches farther from first base, a dead giveaway that some havoc is about to happen.

After a few futile pickoff attempts by the pitcher, Hamilton is off, stealing second base ahead of an errant throw that bounces into the outfield, allowing him to scamper into third base. Two batters later, he scores on a groundout, and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos lead 1-0.

It is Hamilton's 149th stolen base of the season — another notch in his record-breaking season — and further proof he's the most dangerous man on the basepaths in the minor leagues.

"The things he is doing this year are outrageous," Pensacola Manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's really been a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Hamilton, 21, would like to test those wheels in the big leagues with the Cincinnati Reds during the playoff push. He has given General Manager Walt Jocketty 149 reasons to bring him up to the big leagues when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

"It's something that's under consideration," Jocketty said Friday. "We haven't made a final decision."

Hamilton was in familiar territory Saturday, just 60 miles northwest of his hometown, Taylorsville, Miss, where he was a football, basketball and baseball star in high school.

His mom, Polly, sat with about 75 others, all wearing matching gray T-shirts with Hamilton's name and number on the back. He received the biggest ovation of the night when he came to bat — for the opposing team.

"It's been so much fun being able to watch him this season," Polly Hamilton said. "But I'll be honest: The next time I see him, it would be nice if it was in Cincinnati."

It could happen, but there are a few factors working against him. For one thing, he's not on the 40-man roster, meaning the NL Central-leading Reds would have to bump somebody to make room.

But Hamilton is so fast, it might not matter.

"I'm going back down next weekend to watch him play," Jocketty said. "I'm going to talk to (Riggleman) and we'll make a final determination at that point."

Hamilton is certainly an intriguing prospect in both the short and long term, although there's little doubt a promotion would be premature. His speed would be among MLB's best immediately, but his defense at shortstop has been inconsistent. His role with the Reds would probably be confined to pinch-running and other spot duty.

Cincinnati could use the speed. Going into Sunday's game, the Reds had 72 steals this season, ranking 14th out of 16 National League teams.

Not surprisingly, the wiry 6-foot, 170-pound Hamilton was all for a promotion.

"I can go up there and do a little damage for the playoff run," he said with a grin.

Riggleman, who has seen his share of speedsters while managing in the majors, said that Hamilton is more than a pair of fast feet.

Hamilton is batting .320, including .313 in 42 games since being promoted to Double-A. The switch-hitter has 21 doubles, 14 triples and two homers, and he has walked 82 times in 124 games this season.

"Obviously, he's still working on everything and he's not a finished product," Riggleman said. "That being said, he's our best on-base percentage guy, he's a pretty polished right-handed hitter, and he's a good RBI guy for us. He's playing very advanced for a 21-year-old."

Advanced enough for a big league pennant chase? Riggleman's getting him ready just in case, because Pensacola's regular season ends Sept. 3.

Hamilton broke the single-season stolen-base record for minor league teams affiliated with big league organizations last week when he swiped his 146th bag on Aug. 21. Now Riggleman and his star player are working on the finer points of baserunning.

Hamilton has been caught stealing 36 times and has been picked off several times.

"It's a good thing to have (the record) past us so we can get into some good discussions about situations," Riggleman said. "Sometimes in the big leagues, even when you can steal a base, you don't. It depends on the hitter, the score of the game, all that kind of stuff. If (Reds Manager) Dusty Baker is giving you the hold sign, it's not a lack of confidence. It might mean Joey Votto's batting and he's awfully good at getting guys home. Just be patient."

Hamilton admits that the stolen-base record chase was all-consuming, and it was good to get back to focusing on his complete game.

"I've got to work on my defense a little more and keep hitting," Hamilton said. "My hitting's come around a lot this year, but I've had a lot of errors I need to cut down on. I think I've made a big adjustment from last year, so I'm happy where I'm at right now. I've just got to continue to get better."

But if he gets the call to the big leagues next week, that development will be put on hold. Cincinnati would only need him to pack those afterburners.

And Hamilton wouldn't complain a bit.

"I'm a competitor," he said. "So I'm ready to go at any time."

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