I continue my 2014 Fantasy Baseball Preview by looking at the top position battle each team will likely have entering spring training.
After looking at both the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, I stay in the National League Central and look at the Cincinnati Reds top competition in center field.
Calling this a competition is a bit laughable as if the Reds are worried about Billy Hamilton‘s mediocre Triple-A performance in 2013, they aren’t showing it.
Center field is Hamilton’s job to lose, but a poor spring could see him on the first train back to Triple-A and open up the door for either Chris Heisey or Skip Schumaker to open up the season starting in center field.
But even though Hamilton hit only .256 and posted a less than mediocre .651 OPS in Triple-A last season, I’m not real worried.
Hamilton has all the speed in the world and he is the prototypical example of a guy who has the speed, but you can’t steal first base so Hamilton’s fantasy value could take a big hit right off the bat.
However instead of focusing on the mediocre minor league numbers, I like to look at his brief MLB call up last season. Hamilton got only 19 at bats on the big roster but hit .368 with a .902 OPS. Oh yeah, he stole 13 bases in those few at bats as well.
Hamilton’s ability to swipe bags is legit and the old question of can he steal 100 bases is something that can legitimately be asked.
However along with his base stealing ability, there is a lot to like about Hamilton heading into the 2014 campaign, most notably the fact that he has been working on his bunting.
Hamilton has been working with Double-A Pensacola manager and former major leaguer Delino DeShields on his bunting technique, per MLB.com.
Why is this great news?
Bunt hits add to a player’s batting average. If Hamilton can get 25-30 bunt hits this season, he will hit 10-15 points higher. When Hamilton bunted a lot his first year in Billings, he hit .318 in 2010.
Hamilton is expected to be the team’s new leadoff hitter and center fielder, replacing Shin-Soo Choo, who left in free agency. While the Reds don’t expect Hamilton to match Choo’s on-base percentage, they do need him to be productive at the top of the order. Getting on base anyway possible will be big for the Reds’ lineup. If he can master the bunt, it is scary to think about how many bases he can steal.
He still has to prove that he can handle an everyday role in the majors, which is something that is still up in the air. However the more weapons he adds to his arsenal, it is not scary to think that he could have the same type of impact that Ichiro did when he burst onto the scene in 2001.
Prediction: When drafting Hamilton, you have to be careful. It will be tempting to reach on him early just for the steals alone. But he can’t steal bases if he has trouble getting on base. Hamilton only posted a .308 on-base percentage for Triple-A Louisville, so success is no guarantee.
That alone would make me hesitant on reaching on him early on as he is only a one category player. I like the fact that the Reds are committed to him and he will be given every opportunity to succeed. Ultimately I don’t think Hamilton will approach 100 steals. I just don’t think he will get on base consistently enough, but I do feel he will swipe a huge number of bases, enough for him to make a big fantasy impact. Ultimately I project him to hit around .250 and steal 60 bases.
Because of his lack of offense, I don’t have Hamilton in my current Top 30 outfielders, but I do have him right outside that. In most 12-team leagues tight now, Hamilton’s average draft position is the 13th round. That is something that will without a doubt increase closer to the season, deservingly so or not.
When deciding to draft Hamilton early, you really only have one question to ask yourself. Do you think he will have a Vince Coleman type of impact where he dominate a category? Make sure you are positive of that fact as Hamilton could just as easy turn out to be more like Dee Gordon.
At least for now I am betting on the former, but wouldn’t be all too shocked if he becomes the latter.