Larceny is on his mind
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Once he reaches base, Billy Hamilton knows there's still much work to be done.
It's a good bet he'll steal a base or two. After all, he set a professional baseball record last year by swiping 155 of them in 192 attempts, starting the year at Class A Bakersfield and finishing at Class AA Pensacola.
But if he doesn't steal or even make an attempt, he can still be useful by distracting the pitcher or maybe convincing him that it's best to throw fastballs, thereby giving his catcher a better opportunity to deny Hamilton a theft. Or he might induce a pitchout that is often wasteful and helps work the count in the hitter's favor.
The 22-year-old Hamilton, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound Mississippi native, eventually is expected to be the Cincinnati Reds' leadoff hitter and center fielder, probably in 2014, and he should be a good fit.
"If you have that baserunner who is driving the pitcher crazy,'' said Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley, "and you have all-star-caliber hitters at the plate, it's only going to be more run production for the Reds. And let's face it, with that pitching staff, they don't need a whole lot.''
"My job,'' said Hamilton, "is to get on base, mess up the pitcher and hopefully he'll throw a bad pitch to the next hitter.''
In light of their successful 2012 season and talent like Hamilton, the Reds were sounding upbeat at their annual Winter Caravan in front of Macy's Thursday night at Charleston Town Center.
In attendance, in addition to Hamilton and Brantley, were third baseman Todd Frazier, pitcher Logan Ondrusek, broadcaster Jim Kelch and vice-president of baseball operations Dick Williams. A crowd of about 500 lined up for autographs and photographs.
Another reason for their upbeat spirit is last year's Central Division title and 97-65 record, the second-best in baseball behind Washington's 98-64. The Reds, however, lost the division series to the Giants, winning the first two games on the road and dropping the final three at home.
Hamilton, who likely will spend the season at Class AAA Louisville, knows his presence on the bases can be beneficial in more ways than one.
"I try to make it easier for the guys behind me,'' he said. "I talk to the guys [who hit] behind me, and they say like, You make it easier for me. I'm getting fastball after fastball.''
The Reds' second-round pick in the 2009 draft, Hamilton has been a shortstop throughout his pro career but has been switched to center field as part of the team's long-range plan. For this season, the Reds expect Shin-Soo Choo to play center and bat leadoff, giving Hamilton a final year of preparation for the role the following year.
Hamilton began learning his new position in the recent Arizona Fall League.
"I knew I could do it,'' he said. "It wasn't a big deal to me. I did pretty well in a month and a half. I still have a little bit to work on. But I'm comfortable.''
He had a chance to sign a football scholarship and play wide receiver at Mississippi State but, in light of his modest size, chose baseball.
"Football was a sport that I loved to play, too,'' he said, "and Mississippi State was one of the colleges I loved watching when I was growing up. But my Mom thought I was too little to be playing football, so she kind of made [the decision] easy for me. I listen to her. I trust her. And so far it's working out for me.''
Caravan participants touched on other subjects:
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.