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Minor Developments: Gambling on Hamilton

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Are you bullish or bearish on Billy Hamilton in '14? (USAT)

Let’s start our look around the camps by re-igniting the Billy Hamilton debate now that we have more spring data under our belts. The Reds' new leadoff man has been impressive thus far, posting a .313 average and .389 on-base percentage, even adding a homer with nine steals. Much of the criticism surrounding Hamilton is that his bat just isn’t ready for the majors, and that he’ll struggle to get on base. We have a whole season worth of data to support these claims - witness Hamilton’s .256/.308 line in Triple-A last year. 

The criticisms of Hamilton are fair, but don’t lose sight of his 2012 campaign, where he hit .311 with a .410 on-base percentage, en route to a minor league record 155 stolen bases across High-A and Double-A.  I believe Hamilton will continue to progress as a switch hitter. Plus, his improved bunting ability should help raise his average. He’ll also have a year of experience in the outfield under his belt, and his plus speed and defense should buy him time to fight through expected slumps.

I’ve stated all spring that I’m a big time believer in Hamilton for 2014, and feel he’ll post gaudy steal totals that could exceed 80 bases, with at least a passable batting average (around .260). What fantasy gamers will need to determine is whether his upside exceeds his risk relative to cost, as much as a fifth or sixth round pick. Many established rabbits can be had much later (Bourn, Gardner, Revere, Davis). While those names have less risk, they have far less upside, too. I like gambling on upside, so I’d be one willing to take the plunge, but the decision is up to each individual owner. Let’s hear your take in the comments.

There was also devastating news for Rangers second baseman Jurickson Profar, who will be sidelined for 10-12 weeks with a torn muscle in his right shoulder. He was experiencing pain all spring and an MRI confirmed the injury, which is a huge blow to the Rangers and the fantasy owners already counting on him as a sleeper. The Rangers will stopgap with veterans most likely, but may also consider a bold play by promoting prospect Rougned Odor, who excited in a brief stop at Double-A last year (30 games, .306, 6 HR, 19 RBI). Keep a close eye on the situation, and file away Odor’s name in the event he earns the job.

News out of Cardinals camp is that Joe Kelly has secured the fifth starter’s spot and prospect Carlos Martinez will begin the season as the set-up man to closer Trevor Rosenthal. This is disappointing news to fantasy owners who drafted the young righty with the hope that he’d be a rotation sleeper to start the year, but not all hope should be lost for ’14. He’ll post strong ratios and strikeout numbers in a relief role, and could be a key asset for those in deeper formats or leagues with innings caps.

Need a far cheaper alternative to Hamilton with decent upside, too? Then don’t sleep on A’s outfield prospect Billy Burns, who is a burner and on-base machine. He’s been great this spring, posting a .313 average with 10 steals, and could be an option if one of the A’s fragile outfielders breaks down during the season. While Burns has no power to speak of, his on-base ability makes him a likely candidate to fill a role at the major league level, especially for an A’s organization that values that skill highly.

Yankees reliever Dellin Betances is having a nice spring (10.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 BB, 9 SO), and has resurrected a career that was very much in doubt after some significant struggles the previous few seasons. He’s reinvented himself as a power reliever, and looks to be in position to earn himself a major league gig this season. The former top prospect is an imposing presence on the mound, and could find his way into high-leverage situations as the season goes on if he continues to dominate.

Follow Rob Steingall on Twitter @rsteingall

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