Hamilton's defense not to be overlooked
JUN 09, 2014 6:44p ET
CINCINNATI -- The center fielder in baseball doesn't just run around in the outfield. He runs the outfield. The nature of the position is that any ball the center fielder can get to belongs to him.
Billy Hamilton is going to get to a lot of baseballs hit in the outfield because of his speed. He was almost apologetic of that ability when this season started, but now that the Reds are into the third month of the season he has no hesitation in playing the position the way he sees fit. Hamilton is only in his second season playing in the outfield but he is quickly adapting to center field and all that encompasses playing the position.
"It's been crazy," said right fielder Jay Bruce. "He's a baseball player. A flat-out baseball player and it's been fun to watch him develop and he's going to continue to develop. He is, in my opinion, just scratching the surface of what he's got the ability to do."
Saturday against Philadelphia was an example of Hamilton showing off his defensive abilities. Hamilton knew the scouting report on Philadelphia saying that the Phillies are an aggressive team on the base paths. With two outs and a runner on first, chances are the Phillies would be sending the runner home on a ball hit into the gap.
That scenario played itself out in the sixth and seventh innings and both times it was Hamilton who got to the ball in right-center field quickly and started the relay process that would result in the Reds cutting down Marlon Byrd and Carlos Ruiz at home plate. The plays proved crucial in a 6-5 win.
Hamilton might have hesitated getting to the ball at the start of the season in deference to Bruce, who has one of the best arms in baseball, but no more. The older players surrounding him have all told him not to be shy.
"Guys like Jay Bruce and (Ryan) Ludwick, who've been playing the outfield way longer than I have, for them to tell me I'm the captain of the outfield it means a lot to me," said Hamilton. "It's a big responsibility for me but I don't see it as a responsibility. I'm just out there playing center field and I'm learning.
"I'm just a rookie and at first I was scared if a ball was in between us, I was scared to even call it. That's your ball. But they've been helpful in telling me that I'm the captain so I'm more comfortable calling them off and it not being a problem."
Hamilton started his minor league career as a shortstop after the Reds selected him in the second round of the 2009 draft but was moved to the outfield last season, his first season playing at Triple-A Louisville. He played in the Puerto Rican Winter League this past offseason. He hasn't had much opportunity to show off his arm until recently. It's stronger than some might expect given his 6-foot, 160-pound build, as the Phillies found out over the weekend.
It's also pretty accurate. Hamilton hit cut-off man Brandon Phillips who turned and got the ball to catcher Devin Mesoraco on both relay plays.
"We preach hitting the cutoff man," said Hamilton. "That's our main thing as outfielders and something I've really been trying to work on, hitting the cutoff man. I know if I get it to Brandon, who talks about his strong arm all of the time -- how he has a stronger arm than me all of the time -- so I knew if I got it in his hands we'd have a chance. It worked out good for us, having those two big plays."
Most of the talk surrounding Hamilton involves his speed and what he can do offensively. He is hitting .253 overall this season with a .288 on-base percentage and 23 stolen bases in 30 attempts. Hamilton leads the Reds with 37 runs scored and his numbers are more impressive after a rough first two weeks to the season.
His defense has only improved as the season has progressed.
"I think he understands the position and understands his responsibility and his authority to take the balls that he should take," said manager Bryan Price. "I have never seen this kid in an under-confident position. I don't mean that in an arrogant position but I think he's very confident in his ability and what he brings to the field each day. He works on it. He works on balls off the bat every day in the outfield. He works with (coach) Billy Hatcher. He works on his base running. He works on breaking down pitchers. He really is a great professional for a guy that is as inexperienced as he is."