Will Billy Hamilton Break the Arizona Fall League’s Steals Record?
There is one thing I have noticed about you since I started carving out this prospects-focused beat at MiLB.com. Well, not you in particular, but prospects-focused readers like you.
The one thing I have noticed? Patience is at a premium. Whenever I am answering — and soliciting questions — from the MiLB.com audience, I find that I am most often asked Why isn’t Jonathan Singleton up to Triple-A yet? or Gary Brown is going to be in the Majors next month, right?
My response is almost always positively negatory — but not because I don’t understand the anxiousness. You hear about a top young player in your team’s system and you wonder OK, when is this guy going to star in the bigs? And the measured response, Two or three years from now, can be sobering. I get that. I’m a baseball fan, too. But good players take time to develop. Lots of time.
Which brings us to Billy Hamilton. I interviewed the Stolen Base King in February before he became the Stolen Base King in September. He was just coming off a 103-steal 2011 season at Class A Dayton, so he was no unknown. In retrospect, though, the timing was great.
We spoke (me at a desk in Manhattan, Hamilton at his home in Mississippi) not long before he embarked upon his amazing 155-thefts campaign this year at Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. Talking in his quiet but quick Southern twang, Hamilton told me about the wisdom he picked up from the likes of Joe Morgan and Delino DeShields. But his most telling comments came when I asked him about his secret to not getting caught on the basepaths:
“If you draw an imaginary line [in the dirt], you can get to that spot every time [you take a lead], so you don’t have to think about getting back or not. You have to get to a point where you are thinking forward and not thinking backward, and then it’s pretty easy stealing bases [because] you’re not worried about getting back. If you make a false step and you’re able to get back, you know you’re good, so the only thing you think about is going forward.”
Which brings us back to you. OK, not really you, but a reader perhaps not unlike you. There was one comment on that Hamilton Q&A, and it said succinctly Not even in advanced a yet? can’t be that much of a stud.
Six months later, we can all agree, Hamilton is a stud.
Which brings us to another offseason and another question for the Minor League’s fastest man. Hamilton is slated to play in the Fall League for the first time — he is in Arizona working on his defense in center field, not in Mississippi fielding interview requests about his struggles at shortstop.
And I’m the one wondering: Will he break yet another league’s stolen-base record before the calendar year ends?
Yeah, I’m the impatient one. Hamilton is, after all, the most exciting player in the Minors (at least, according to his peers). So it’s almost a letdown when he’s not, you know, doing something exciting.
So indulge me. To estimate the possibility of an eventful October and November over there on the West Coast, let’s do some math. An AFL official told me the other day that one Rickey Holifield stole 24 bags for the 1994 Peoria Javelinas. That is the record on the books.
Coincidentally, Hamilton is also playing for the Reds-affiliated Javelinas, though he sat out the club’s first two games of the season. Let’s say Hamilton plays in 25 of the remaining 30 games (including their afternoon tilt with Phoenix on Thursday). He would need to average one theft per game to eclipse Holifield’s two-dozen total. (In the Minors this year, Hamilton averaged 1.17/game.)
Here is what he’s up against: Only one ballplayer since 2005 has racked up 20 steals in the AFL (a league more for slugging than stealing) since 2005 — Eric Young swiped that many in 31 games for the Desert Dogs in ’08.
So will Hamilton do it? I don’t know.
And before you ask when Hamilton will be in a Reds uniform, I don’t know that for sure either. Maybe another year, maybe half of one.
I do know this: He’ll be running as fast as he can on his way there.