NASHVILLE, Tenn. — No matter how fast he might be, please hold your horses regarding top prospect Billy Hamilton helping the Cincinnati Reds in a meaningful way in 2013.
When asked about him at the winter meetings on Monday, manager Dusty Baker put up a stop sign, saying Hamilton's transition from the infield to center field, along with other factors, might delay his arrival in the majors.
"He's learning how to play center field, and he's learning how to switch hit," Baker said. "He has a few things to learn just about baseball, and it won't be too long. I can't say how long because I don't know how quickly he can come."
Come on, Dusty! We're talking about a 22-year-old guy who might be "the fastest player ever." He'll be in the bigs as quick as he's allowed. It's true that most minor leaguers still have "a few things" to learn about baseball, so maybe Baker's comments won't mean anything later. But they do currently put a damper on expectations after what has been a meteoric rise by Hamilton during a fantastic 2012 season.
Hamilton not only set a record for stolen bases with 155, he batted .310/.410 in splitting time between Class A and AA. The 86 walks, along with the 38 extra-base hits, were very encouraging. As was his participation in the Futures Game in Kansas City during the All-Star break.
Hamilton continued to play well in the Arizona Fall League — which doesn't necessarily mean much, as Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out. Mike Trout hit .245 and was very blah in Arizona a year ago. He turned out OK.
The Reds have a contending team and relying on a rookie in center field who only has played shortstop in the minors might give me pause as well. But looking at what Drew Stubbs produced in 2012 — not much — the Reds should at least be open to the possibility of Hamilton playing. The sooner, Dusty, the better.
"It's just a tendency to rush him because we've heard so much about him, but are you doing him a disservice by rushing him?" Baker said. "That's where the dilemma comes in where people are going to be hollering to see him. Whether he's ready or not to play as mistake‑free baseball as possible."
The first mistake the Reds would make: Not giving him a chance to earn a job in spring training. Even if he doesn't make the team, he'll undoubtedly learn a few of the things that Baker is talking about.