Created on Friday, 15 February 2013 Written by GARY SCHATZ,Associated Press
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Billy Hamilton is getting a chance to speed up his career by doing more than just stealing bases.
The 22-year-old outfielder with record-setting speed is in spring training with the Cincinnati Reds for the first time. He's projected to start the season at Triple-A Louisville, where he can continue learning to play center field and becoming a switch-hitter.
If he has a solid spring with the Reds, he'll boost his standing with the front office and manager Dusty Baker, who has seen very little of him. Baker wants to see how he does things other than just stealing.
"To play winning baseball, there are things you have to do other than just steal," Baker said on Thursday. "Switch-hitting is new for him. Playing a new position is new for him. Those are things that you need to work on and to be able to do them, you've got to play. If you have an honor student as a freshman, are you going to graduate him right away?"
Hamilton set a professional record by stealing 155 bases last season at Single-A and Double-A. He's on track to start in center field for Cincinnati during the 2014 season, if he can become comfortable with his new position and his new batting style. The Reds think he can reach base more frequently if he's a switch-hitter who can bunt.
"It is tough to learn to switch-hit," said Hamilton, who is a natural right-handed hitter. "I've been doing a good job with it. I need more work at it. The more I keep working at it, the better I'm going to get. I am looking forward to what happens because it could be a big plus for my game."
He's also learning a new position as well. Zack Cozart established himself as Cincinnati's starting shortstop with a solid rookie season. Hamilton, who played shortstop throughout his career, was moved to center field at the end of last season, getting acquainted with the job during the Arizona Fall League.
The Reds sent center fielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and got Shin-Soo Choo to play the position for this season, leaving an opening for Hamilton in the future. His first experience in center last fall went as expected.
"I made some mistakes, which was good," Hamilton said. "I have a lot of things to work on, so I need to learn from mistakes. They just threw me out there. The angles to the ball are different from playing shortstop. The key is getting the angles right, getting to the ball or playing the wall to prevent triples. That's the main thing I've learned."
Hamilton played in a few spring training games last year as a minor leaguer. This will be Baker's first chance to see him for an extended time.
"I'm interested in getting to know him as a person and getting to know him as a player, to see him first-hand," Baker said. "I look at what he needs to improve on and what he's doing good at right now. We want to enhance the things he's doing well and try to teach him how to do the things he doesn't do well."
The Reds also want to help him polish his stealing. Hamilton will have to learn to read pitchers' moves better and understand what it takes to steal consistently with better catchers there to throw him out.
"I've seen speed before," Baker said. "We're all amazed by speed, but learning how to harness it is next. I played with one of the fastest men in baseball, Ralph Garr. He was my roommate. I've played with some speed guys. The only common denominator is that they all walk slow. They all walk like Mickey Rivers."