Reds' record-setter Hamilton says confidence the key to swiping bases

mmaloney@herald-leader.comJanuary 30, 2013 

  • Upcoming Reds dates

    Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training

    Feb. 14: Rest of team reports to spring training

    Feb. 22: Opening game of spring training vs. Cleveland Indians at Goodyear, Ariz.

    April 1: Opening Day in Cincinnati vs. Anaheim Angels

Atop Sydney's iconic Harbour Bridge in Australia, a light to alert low-flying airplanes is known as "Blinking Billy."

Atop the Cincinnati Reds' 2013 prospects, there also is a Blinking Billy.

As in Billy Hamilton, gone in a blink.

Hamilton eclipsed Vince Coleman's record of 145 stolen bases last year, swiping 155 while splitting time between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. Coleman, who went on to star with the St. Louis Cardinals, set his record with Macon in 1983.

When Hamilton stole 103 bases in 2011, he was the first minor-leaguer since 2001 to reach triple digits.

The Reds plan to have him with Triple-A Louisville this season, as he adjusts from shortstop to center field.

Minor League Player of the Year for the Reds last season, Hamilton batted .311, with on-base and slugging percentages of .410 and .420. His 155 steals came over 132 games.

"Had a lot of fun and got a lot accomplished last year," Hamilton said at Sunday's Reds Caravan stop in Lexington. "I learned a lot. As in base-stealing, becoming a better player and being consistent. I really just got out there and focused on getting on base more.

"My main goal is to get on base and, if I can get on base, I can steal bases. So last year was a big part of me stealing and switch-hitting. I feel like I came a long way switch-hitting."

Hamilton, 22, was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2009 draft, 57th overall. Out of Taylorsville (Miss.) High School, he chose the Reds over playing wide receiver for Mississippi State University.

He has been an all-star three seasons in a row, was MVP of the California League last season and has caught the eyes of those who don't blink.

Aside from pure speed, Hamilton said his steals come from attention to detail.

"Learning the pitcher's move and reading when he's going to slide-step or high leg-kick, that's what I've learned over the years," he said. "I started out, I was just running and using my speed. But now, as I've been moving up the levels, I've been learning more about the pitchers, so I look forward to learning more during spring training."

Lexington Legends second baseman Delino DeShields Jr. ranked second in the minors with 126 thefts last season (108 for Lexington, 18 with High-A Lancaster).

Hamilton is acquainted with DeShields. They have the same agent, and DeShields' dad has coached Hamilton in the Reds' system.

Delino DeShields Sr., who stole 463 bases in the big leagues, instilled confidence in Hamilton.

"That's the big key of everything: confidence," Hamilton said. "Not being afraid of being thrown out. He told me, 'Man, there's one thing about stealing bases. Not that you have speed or can read a pitcher. You have to have the confidence that you can get it every time.' ... That's why I do it. I'm not afraid of being thrown out."

Hamilton, drafted as a second baseman before moving to shortstop, is confident he will adjust to center field. He began the transition in the Arizona Fall League, where he also honed his bunting skills.

"I really went down to the Fall League to learn how to bunt more," he said. "I'm learning more. Just getting it down, even bunting with two strikes. ... If I can get a bunt down, I feel like I can do a bunch of damage."

Speaking of damage, it turns out Hamilton's favorite way to chill is to hunt deer with friends in Mississippi.

The damage?

"I'll usually go with somebody, so I'll be asleep," he said. "I shot a couple. I mean, I shot at a couple. I don't think I've killed any."

He's a thief, not a killer.


UPCOMING REDS DATES

Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report to spring training

Feb. 14: Rest of team reports to spring training

Feb. 22: Opening game of spring training vs. Cleveland Indians at Goodyear, Ariz.

April 1: Opening Day in Cincinnati vs. Anaheim Angels

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229.Twitter: @markmaloneyHL.Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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