Billy Hamilton’s potential as an offensive force was on full display for the first time on this date in 2013. The Taylorsville High product made his first major league start for Cincinnati and filled the box score with three hits, two walks, two runs, an RBI and, most notably, four stolen bases in a 6-5 victory. Seven years later, Hamilton has 302 career steals, most ever by a Mississippi native. But an inability to hit or reach base consistently (.241 career hitter, .289 OBP) has relegated the 30-year-old to role player status in 2020. Hamilton is with the Chicago Cubs, the third club he’s been with this year, and has just 23 at-bats in 23 games total. Used primarily as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, he has two hits and three steals. A second-round draft pick in 2009, Hamilton won’t go down as a total flop – he was second in National League rookie of the year voting in 2014, when he batted .250 and stole 56 bases – but the exciting potential he flashed on Sept. 18, 2013, was never fully realized.
Wouldn’t it be strange if Billy Hamilton’s last act as a New York Met was a baserunning gaffe? The Taylorsville High product, who has made his living with his legs, was betrayed by his aggressiveness on Thursday, getting thrown out trying to steal third base with no outs in the bottom of the ninth and his team down a run. Hamilton was designated for assignment Friday, a move the Mets said was needed to add another pitcher to the active roster. But manager Luis Rojas also called Hamilton’s mistake on Thursday “not good baseball.” Hamilton, used mainly as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, was 1-for-22 at the plate this season and had three steals in four tries. He has 302 career steals, having been successful more than 80 percent of the time. But he has never gotten on base at a good rate. He has bounced from Kansas City to Atlanta to San Francisco to the Mets the last two seasons. Can he bounce back to the big leagues?
Billy Hamilton, the speedster from Taylorsville, is on the move again. The New York Mets have traded for the veteran center fielder, who had been in San Francisco’s alternate camp. Hamilton is valued for his defense and speed on the bases, a skill that has gained importance with the new extra-inning rule in MLB this season. “The guy is incredible, and he’s got tons of energy,” Mets pitcher Jared Hughes, who played with Hamilton in Cincinnati, told the New York Post. “He’s a good influence in the clubhouse. Everybody loves him.” Hamilton, a .242 career hitter with 299 steals, came up with the Reds in 2013 and spent last season with Kansas City and Atlanta. He joins fellow Mississippi native Brian Dozier (Tupelo/Fulton) on the Mets’ roster. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, a left-hander, has been added to the Chicago Cubs’ 30-man roster. Steele, a fifth-round pick in 2014, has not pitched above Double-A. He has a 3.62 career ERA.
Today’s challenge is to build a player. Drawing from the pool of Mississippi-born big leaguers, put together a Super Player based on the five tools scouts evaluate in a position player. Those are hit, hit for power, field, throw and run. Start with the latter, which might be the easiest call here. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, currently signed to a minor league contract with San Francisco, is one of the fastest to ever play the game, a modern day equivalent of Starkville native Cool Papa Bell, the Negro Leagues legend and Hall of Famer. Hamilton has 299 career steals in his seven MLB seasons and holds the all-time pro record with 155 bags in the minors in 2012. Check. Hamilton also is a standout defender in center field, but Jackson native Chet Lemon arguably was better. Lemon, who played from 1975-90, recorded 509 putouts in center field for Detroit in 1977 to set a major league record. He had three more as a right fielder that year, and that 512 total ranks as the fourth-most all-time in a single season. Lemon ranked among the top 10 center fielders in putouts in a season seven times and among the fielding percentage leaders five times. No less an authority than Sparky Anderson called Lemon the best center fielder he had ever seen. Good enough. When it comes to throwing ability, one can’t go wrong with Grenada native Dave Parker. Anecdotal evidence: His throw from right field to nail a runner at the plate in 1979 All-Star Game is widely regarded as one of the most jaw-dropping ever. When players dared run on him, Parker made them pay. A three-time Gold Glover, he recorded 143 assists – 26 in 1977 alone — over a 19-year career from 1973-91, though he played little outfield the last four years. The best hitter, based on average alone, among Mississippi natives is Buddy Myer, the Ellisville native who played from 1925-41. A lefty-swinging singles hitter, Myer batted .302 for his career and won a batting title with a .349 mark in 1935. Gulfport’s Gee Walker, who played from 1931-45, batted .294, including a single-season best of .353 in 1936. Among more recent players, the best hitter is, surprisingly enough, Dmitri Young, the big (6 feet 2, 295 pounds) switch-hitter from Vicksburg who batted .291 from 1996-2008. He had more pop, with 171 career homers, than Myer or Walker, but for just pure hitting, Myer is the pick. When it comes to raw power, there are several great candidates, from Parker to George Scott to Ellis Burks to Hunter Renfroe. But, from many accounts, there was something special about the threat that Luke Easter brought to the plate. The 6-4, 240-pound Easter, from Jonestown, clubbed 93 big league homers in the 1950s and another 247 in a long minor league career. He hit some legendary bombs, including a 500-footer in Buffalo’s Offermann Stadium and a 477-footer in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. So, that’s Hamilton’s wheels, Lemon’s glove, Parker’s hose, Myer’s bat and Easter’s power. A star is born.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates were sinking to the bottom of the National League Central last season, Chris Stratton may have kept his career afloat with his work out of the Bucs’ bullpen. The former Mississippi State star from Tupelo was traded twice in a two-month span in 2019, by San Francisco to the Los Angeles Angels during spring training and from the Angels to Pittsburgh in May. His numbers for the Angels weren’t good: an 8.59 ERA working primarily as a starter. He went straight to the bullpen in Pittsburgh and delivered a 3.66 ERA over 28 appearances with only a couple of truly bad outings. The 29-year-old right-hander would appear to have a good shot at winning a bullpen job in spring training. A Pirates-centric website, rumbunter.com, named Stratton a breakout candidate for 2020. A first-round pick by the Giants in 2012, Stratton’s stuff is reputed to be top drawer; the spin rates on his curveball and fastball are among the best in the game, according to rumbunter. But his career hasn’t taken off; he is 16-17, 4.88 in 83 MLB games dating to 2016. This might be the year. P.S. Billy Hamilton, the speedy center fielder from Taylorsville, is called “a perfect fit for Oracle Park,” by nbcsports.com/bayarea. First of all, Hamilton, signed to a minor league deal by San Francisco on Friday, will have to make the big league roster this spring. Hamilton doesn’t hit much but, at 29, is still a factor with his legs, glove and arm. The Giants are shrinking the outfield in Oracle Park — from 399 in center to 391 and from 421 to 415 in the right-center field alley — but speed in center field is still a priority. The team currently lists rising star Mike Yastrzemski as the starter there and also has speedy Steven Duggar as an option.
Pittsburgh reportedly is considering Billy Hamilton, among others, to fill its vacancy in center field after the trade of Starling Marte. Taylorsville’s Hamilton, a free agent, is coming off the worst of his six full big league seasons, but at age 29 can still fly. He batted .218 overall with 22 steals last season, .268 with four bags in 26 games for Atlanta, which used him primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement after grabbing him on waivers from Kansas City. Hamilton finished second in the National League rookie of the year voting in 2014 with Cincinnati but hasn’t progressed as a hitter. A switch-hitter, he has a woeful .297 career on-base percentage but also 299 steals and a .995 fielding percentage with 55 assists. Oddly enough, Hamilton has not won a Gold Glove or a stolen base crown.
When you’ve been found wanting by one of the worst teams in baseball, it’s not a good sign. But Billy Hamilton, still one of the fastest players in MLB, may find another opportunity to use his breathtaking speed. The former Taylorsville High star was designated for assignment today by Kansas City, which means he could be claimed by another team or, more likely, become a free agent. Hamilton signed a one-year free agent deal with the Royals in the off-season after six years with Cincinnati, where, from 2014-17, he averaged 58 steals a year despite a sub-.250 average. Wrote MLB Trade Rumors at the time he signed with Kansas City: “(I)f Hamilton starts filling those massive gaps (in Kauffman Stadium) with liners and shows a newfound devotion to the strike zone, the Royals could have the steal of the decade … .” That didn’t happen, and his plus-defense in center field wasn’t enough to keep him in the Royals’ lineup. Hamilton was batting .211 with 18 bags in 93 games. At 28, he can still run, so perhaps a team with a need for such a specialist will come calling.
They say you shouldn’t put much stock in spring training stats, but it’s hard not to notice that Hunter Renfroe’s numbers lag behind the other players competing for playing time in San Diego’s crowded outfield. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe returned to the Padres’ lineup on Tuesday after getting some time off for rest and went 1-for-4 with an RBI. That puts him at .182 with a homer and seven RBIs. Among the other outfielders on the 40-man, Jose Pirela is hitting .333 with three homers, Manuel Margot .268, Franmil Reyes .268 (two bombs), Franchy Cordero .237 and Wil Myers .206. Cordero is the only left-handed batter. Renfroe finished strong in 2018, his second full MLB tour, and wound up at .248 with 26 homers. His power – and his arm in either right field or left – should keep him in the mix for playing time this year. Still, a strong finish to the Cactus League season wouldn’t hurt. … Meanwhile, Taylorsville High alumnus Billy Hamilton is having a good spring with his new club, Kansas City. Signed in large part for the defense he’ll provide in center field, the speedy Hamilton is batting .333 (.391 on-base percentage) with six doubles, seven runs and four steals in 16 games. Hamilton’s weak bat ultimately made him expendable in Cincinnati.
Billy Hamilton was not on the market very long. Non-tendered by Cincinnati on Nov. 30, the former Taylorsville High standout reportedly signed with Kansas City today. The deal is for one year and $5 million. The 28-year-old center fielder slumped in 2018, batting .236 and stealing just 34 bases. But his defense remains top shelf, which makes him a good fit in KC’s outfield. Hamilton has 277 career MLB stolen bases, most ever by a Mississippi native. He stole 155 bases in the minors in 2012, a pro record. The Royals’ current depth chart lists Brett Phillips, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, and Brian Goodwin as the top two center fielders.
This could be the year. Billy Hamilton, for all the jaw-dropping plays he has made in center field these last five years, has not won a Gold Glove. The Taylorsville native and Cincinnati center fielder is among the finalists this year, as are Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson and former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland. The nine winners from each of the two leagues will be announced on Nov. 4. The dash-fast Hamilton made 348 putouts this season – suffice it to say that’s a lot – registered 12 assists and committed just two errors. Dickerson, who played left field for Pittsburgh, also had an excellent year with the glove, making just one error with seven assists. Moreland, Boston’s first baseman, won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016; he made two errors this year while handling 809 chances. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier took gold at second base with Minnesota in 2017 but did not make the list of finalists this year. Greenville natives Frank White and George Scott own the most Gold Gloves among Mississippians with eight apiece. White racked up his at second base with Kansas City back in the 1970s and ’80s. Scott earned his as a first baseman with Boston and Milwaukee in the ’60s and ’70s.