In the Arizona Fall League All-Star Game on Saturday night (called the Rising Starts game), Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Billy Hamilton stole the show, both literally and figuratively.
Leading off for the West team (who lost 9-4), Hamilton went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and two stolen bases, including a delayed steal of third typically reserved for the Little League World Series.
Hamilton, universally regarded as the fastest man in all of organized baseball, showed that he can dominate any baseball game with his legs while at the same time adjusting to a new position.
The Reds moved Hamilton, who was drafted as a shortstop, to center field right before the AFL, and it’s been a work in progress. The Reds believe, and correctly so, that Hamilton will become a strong center fielder, but he showed on Saturday that he’s not there yet.
He misplayed a ball against the wall, allowing catching prospect Austin Romine of the New York Yankees to get a triple on a ball that should have been a double. Later in the game, Hamilton made an impressive diving catch, but it was on a ball that he drifted after. Had he been tracking it at full speed, he would have been camped.
All of this, of course, was secondary to what he did at the plate.
Hamilton managed two walks, something he does routinely despite striking significantly more fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers on the bases than he does at the plate. This is a player with absolutely no power, so there is absolutely no reason not to go right after him as a pitcher. Additionally, he’s a terror on the base paths, giving pitchers even more incentive to force him to hit his way on base.
His one hit was a drag bunt down the first base line, perfectly placed in the no-man’s land between the first baseman and the pitcher. It was an automatic hit, as he was going to beat the second baseman to first base anyway, but his speed forced the defense to rush their throw, sending it down the right field line and Hamilton coasting into third base.
This is the havoc the Reds envision him wreaking on the National League, perhaps as soon as 2013.
Hamilton will be in the majors at some point next season. With Drew Stubbs still in Cincinnati, the Reds have plenty of time to let Hamilton learn how to play center field properly, and they should use all of it. But he will undoubtedly be up in the majors towards the end of the season to give the Reds a jolt in a possible playoff run, if in no other way than as a dominant pinch-runner.