Last season, Shin-Soo Choo was very effective playing CF and leading off for the Cincinnati Reds. He did exactly what a leadoff man is supposed to do — get on base. Choo was second (to teammate Joey Votto) in the NL in OBP with .423. Unfortunately, the Reds could not afford to re-sign Choo this offseason as he signed a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
Stepping in and trying to replace the production of Choo for the Reds will be rookie speedster Billy Hamilton. Reds owner Bob Castellini has already said that Hamilton will play CF and bat leadoff for the Reds in 2014.
Hamilton is best known for setting the minor league record for most steals in a season when he swiped 155 bases in 132 games in 2012. Fast does not even begin to explain the speed of Hamilton. He is, without question, the fastest player in all of baseball. Players with speed like Hamilton are a very rare breed in the sport.
Obviously, there is much more to the game than speed. Nobody questions his running ability, but there are legitimate concerns about his other tools. At the plate, Hamilton is a switch hitter that has shown solid contact skills and plate discipline in the lower minors, but he really struggled to get on base against triple-A pitching last season.
Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 OBP in 547 plate appearances in triple-A last season, but he still stole 75 bases. If he is going to wreak havoc on the basepaths like everybody knows he is capable of, he must be able to get on base at a better clip. As far as power goes, there simply is not much in his 6-foot, 160-pound frame.
Defensively, Hamilton has not been playing the outfield for very long, and it shows at times. Occasionally, he looks awkward in the outfield and takes incorrect routes to the ball, but he usually makes up for it with his incredible speed. I think Hamilton will only get better on defense as time goes on. More often than not, pure athletic ability wins out in the outfield.
Considering the Reds have already announced Hamilton as their leadoff hitter this season, it would take a terrible Spring Training for him to lose his job. Hamilton must be a patient hitter at the plate and get to first base any way possible, and that is the key to his Spring Training. Once he gets to first, his incredible speed will take care of the rest.
Hamilton has the upside to be a once-in-a-lifetime player, but he must get on base consistently. He will be a huge story for the Reds in Spring Training and is certainly worth watching.