The biggest unknown in the Reds 2014 season is young Billy Hamilton. He is being handed both the centerfield and leadoff jobs to begin the season. Reds fans are both hopeful and nervous. Watching Hamilton run is a religious experience and the only question is if he will bring enough of a bat to carry his weight in the majors. Here are my projections.
2013 Slash Line: .256/.308/.343 (AAA)
2014 Projection: .255/.315/.330
2013 WAR: 0.6 (Choo – 5.2)
2014 Best Guess WAR: 2.0
Projected Difference: -3.2 WAR from Choo
2014 Floor: 0.0 WAR
2014 Ceiling: 5.0 WAR
I want to start the discussion by saying that no one should expect Hamilton to replace Choo. That’s simply not fair. They are radically different players with radically different skill sets. Choo was a finished player while Hamilton is still developing. So while it is very unlikely the Reds will get as much out of center as they did last year, that does not mean Hamilton is destined to be a bust.
Hamilton, at this point, is all about potential. So let’s discuss what we know and don’t know about him.
What We Know:
Hamilton will lead the league in steals if he plays every day and he will hit for zero power. It’s all about the legs. He’s a rare player who might be more likely to hit an inside-the-park homer than the conventional trotting variety. The only real hope for improvement is that as he ages, he gains a bit of strength. Just a touch more power would do him a great deal of good. He did crack a .400 SLG at two different minor league stops, but what we should hope for is that he can get it north of .350.
What We Don’t Know:
How much he will walk and how good his defense will be. In two minor league stops in 2012, Hamilton walked a lot. Like Joey Votto-level a lot. Last year, he was more Todd Frazier. This is the big key to his value. If he walks like Frazier, he’s probably not a total disaster, but many will be questioning his effectiveness. But, if he can even find a middle ground between Frazier and Votto, then the Reds will really have something. A 10 percent walk-rate probably means an OBP north of . 340, and with Hamilton’s speed, that is an excellent place to be.
He figures to be above average in center with projections generally ranging from just above average to, gold-glove level. My money is on him being closer to a gold-glove than average.
What we’ve heard in spring training so far, is encouraging. If Hamilton really does focus on taking walks and getting on base, this could be a big year for him. In the end, we have to hope the potential pays off soon.