Last season was significant for Hamilton as he not only continued to move up the minor league chain, but also switched from his shortstop position to center field. Hamilton had 35 and 31 errors, respectively, over the prior two seasons and his speed was better used in the outfield. But he struggled to get on base in 2013. In fact, his 2013 offensive performance was the polar opposite of what was seen in the prior two seasons. He hit .311 and OBPed .410 in 2011 and followed that up with .323, .413 in 2012. Last season however, he hit just .258 and OBPed just .308. His OBP was less than his batting average over either of the past two seasons. Hamilton has not been much of a patient hitter at the plate; his OBP an indication of his solid batting average. This likely delayed his promotion to the majors, which started in September of last season. He did go 7-19 (.368) with 13 steals in 13 games for the Reds down the stretch.
If Billy Hamilton wasn't named after the 19th century speedster, it is one of the most ridiculous coincidences in the history of the world. Billy is known as Billy R Hamilton, according to baseballreference.com. The elder Hamilton was known as Billy Robert Hamilton and was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in 1961, 21 years after his death. Hamilton's 914 steals were a MLB record until Lou Brock passed his total in 1978. He gets little attention since his career spanned from 1888-1901. Billy played for teams such as the Kansas City Cowboys (1888-1889), the Philadelphia Phillies (1890-1895) and the Boston Beaneaters (1896-1901). In 1889, Hamilton had his first of four 100 SB seasons: unofficially the first one in MLB history. He was also an incredible hitter, hitting .344 for his career. He would score over 100 runs in a season 11 times in his 14 year career, including 6 seasons of 140 RS or more. In 1894, he scored a staggering 198 runs. Hamilton also knew how to get on base. He walked over 100 times a season 4 times and had at least 81 walks in 10 different seasons. He OBPed .455 for his entire career. For a player who had just 242 2Bs, 95 3Bs and 42 HR in his career, he still managed to finish his career with a .888 OPS. Hamilton managed to score more runs in his career (1697) than games he played in (1594).
It is difficult to expect anybody to match the career of one of the more underrated players of the 19th century. The modern day Hamilton should not be expected to come close to what the older one was able to accomplish. A lot of that has to do with the way the game has changed and some of the advantages the 19th century Hamilton was able to hone with the differences in the ballparks. But the Reds OF has a chance to be the next great base stealer. He broke Vince Coleman's record for most stolen bases in a minor league season in 2012, which had been 152. Rickey Henderson holds the big league record with 130 for a single season.
Billy Hamilton has to work on getting on base better. His plate selection and his inability to walk frequently enough put the pressure on him needing to get a hit to get on base. As was shown last season in AAA, better pitchers are going to find a way to get him out, especially if he is inclined to chase pitches out of the strike zone. He has managed to strike out over 100 times each of the past three seasons. He clearly has the speed to lead the circuit but it can be a bigger asset if he can increase his on base percentage and cut down on the strikeouts. Cincinnati has an opportunity available for Hamilton to play in center field and lead off in 2014, at age 23. Perhaps he can use the Ichiro approach to simply put the ball in play, which can lead to a lot of infield hits.
In all seriousness, the Billy Hamilton to Billy Hamilton comparison was completely unfair. But if he works on his plate discipline, he has the ability to steal a lot of bases. And if he can be a consistent regular, perhaps he may have a chance of passing the elder Hamilton's one time MLB record of 914 steals.