COMMENTARY| For all the the great, young talent the Cincinnati Reds have developed in recent years, perhaps only Jay Bruce has generated the kind of buzz coming up through the farm system that Billy Hamilton has.
After stealing 155 bases at two levels of the minors last year, clearly that buzz about Hamilton continues to accelerate.
The Reds decided to switch Hamilton from shortstop to center field this year, which marks Hamilton's first with the Reds Triple-A affiliate in Louisville. So far, he's committed two fielding errors at his new position, both on line-drive singles that allowed runners to score from first (April 10 and 15). His batting average is a meager .229, but he's managed to swipe 13 bases in the team's first 18 games.
Obviously, Hamilton is not ready to join the big club right now, nor is he particularly needed at the moment. Unlike another Reds phenom -- Tony Cingrani -- Hamilton doesn't have to undergo a baptism by fire. However, that doesn't mean the Reds should wait for September to call up Hamilton as part of the expanded roster.
The Reds need another quality left-handed reliever. If Sean Marshall can't stay healthy, and Manny Parra continues to pitch like Manny Parra, the Reds will find themselves with closer Aroldis Chapman as the only viable lefty out of the bullpen.
With a dearth of lefty relievers available to the Reds in their farm system, that lack could force a move to acquire a lefty capable of slotting into the pen right away. The Reds would be in a position to trade either Chris Heisey or Derrick Robinson to acquire a lefty if Hamilton is ready to make the transition to big league outfielder.
In order for that to happen, Hamilton would have to get some playing time in left field before he is called up because Shin-Soo Choo has shown he's adjusted from right to center field well enough to continue playing there for the time being. There's no reason why Choo couldn't make the switch from center to left field during this season, if necessary, and that may be a real primary mover for bringing up Hamilton before September call ups: the Reds could make a move to extend Choo and have him be their left-fielder of the future.
Choo would command a contract upward of six years, $90 million, but if there's any payroll wiggle room left for the small market Reds to make one more monster signing, this would be a big one and it would hinge on whether or not Hamilton is not only a can't miss prospect but a big league outfielder.
Rushing Hamilton in his development as an outfielder and hitter may have growing pains, but the likelihood is that those pains would be worth it, especially since Hamilton is a stolen base artist unlike baseball has ever seen.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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