Assuming he reaches the major leagues (and that he can actually get on base once he's there), Cincinnati Reds prospect Billy Hamilton will be a unique force. No one in professional baseball runs faster than Hamilton, who has accumulated 236 stolen bases in 307 minor-league games since debuting in the middle of 2009.
Hamilton is currently playing with the Bakersfield Blaze of the advanced Class A California League right now, batting .315/.401/.438 and leading all of baseball with 72 stolen bases. One of his former managers, Delino DeShields, told reporter C. Trent Rosecrans of CBS Eye on Baseball that the Reds would be wise to promote Hamilton to the majors this season (probably when rosters expand in September) to be a pinch runner.
If he ever reaches the big leagues, he'll be the second Billy Hamilton to appear in a major-league game. A 19th century superstar, "Sliding Billy" Hamilton played in 14 major-league seasons, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Beaneaters (now known as the Atlanta Braves), and was enshrined in Cooperstown in 1961. Like his baseball descendent, the first Billy Hamilton relied on speed; he led the league in steals five times. He also led the league five times in getting on base. He was a combination of Wade Boggs and Vince Coleman.
So, we have two Billy Hamiltons (Billy R. Hamiltons, actually) in baseball. Both speedy. But, as Jason Collette of Baseball Prospectus mentioned on Twitter, there is a particular, absolutely astonishing similarity between the Billys. It's mind-blowing, actually.
And here it is:
1st Billy Hamilton in 1888 had 72 steals in 61 games for Worchester Grays. Current Billy Hamilton now has 72 steals in 61 games for Blaze
— jasoncollette (@jasoncollette) June 12, 2012
The first Billy Hamilton didn't see a 62nd game for Worcester, because he was promoted to the bigs and made his debut for the Kansas City Cowboys on July 31, 1888, the year he turned 22. Modern Billy Hamilton also turns 22 in September. Will we pick up the comparison then, when the Reds probably will be fighting it out for another NL Central title? Manager Dusty Baker might just look down his bench one night and call for Hamilton to run for the catcher.
Modern Billy came into the season ranked the No. 48 prospect in the minors, according to Baseball America. A second-round pick in '09, Hamilton has to keep pushing to improve his batting average and on-base percentage if he wants a long career in the majors — much less what Billy Hamilton did 120 years ago.
But what if he does?
*The Leakeys didn't really discover the Dead Sea Scrolls