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Blaze's Hamilton runs theft total to 5205/28/2012 8:56 PM ET
By Danny Wild / MLB.com
Billy Hamilton enters each season with the goal of doubling his stolen-base total from the previous year. Last year, he swiped 103.
Is 200 really a feasible goal?
"I had 100 last year, and I want to double it each year," Hamilton said, then laughed. Perhaps 203 is out of his reach, but what about 144, the California League's all-time record?
"I mean, it's possible," the shortstop said. "I think 144 is possible, but I'm not saying I'm going to go out and get 144. I knew  would be tough to double, but I didn't set any goals. I just want to get better, come work on my jump, and whatever happens, happens."
So far, it's happening. Quickly. Hamilton, the Reds' top prospect, stole three more bases Monday -- his 50th, 51st and 52nd thefts of the season -- as Class A Advanced Bakersfield got past Inland Empire, 6-2.
Can Hamilton really challenge Donnell Nixon's "crime wave" of 1983, when the former Major Leaguer stole 144 in 135 games for that same Bakersfield team? Hamilton would end up dashing two-and-a-half miles if he makes a run at that mark. And that hinges on if the Reds can resist the urge to promote Hamilton this summer.
"Every couple days I look back and see, compare how I'm doing compared to last year, and you can see it's a real big jump," said Hamilton, who is ranked No. 30 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects. "It gives me a bunch of confidence in knowing I'm improving every year and getting better."
Hamilton currently leads all of professional baseball in steals. He has over twice as many as Major League steals leader Emilio Bonifacio (20) and seems to be on pace to challenge Nixon's mark.
Nixon, whose brother Otis also played in the Majors, spent parts of four seasons in the bigs with Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore but never came close to replicating the speed he showed in the summer of '83.
Hamilton's really been on the move lately. He's stolen 10 bases in his last six games, had a streak of 15 steals in seven games from April 22-29, swiped four on April 26 and hasn't gone more than three consecutive games all season without a swipe.
Getting the milestone 50th steal wasn't exactly hanging over Hamilton's head, but coming into Monday's game, he knew he was close.
"It was on my mind, but I mean, it wasn't like, 'OK, I need to get to 50,'" he said. "I just go out there, do what you gotta do, get bases."
Hamilton singled and stole second in the first inning, hit a two-out single and swiped second again in the fourth and plated Theo Bowe with a base hit before taking second in the eighth.
His Blaze teams have enjoyed watching the show too.
"It's the confidence, it hasn't gone. I get thrown out a couple times, more times than I want, so I know I have to get better on the jumps," said the Mississippi native, who's been thrown out 11 times. "But my teammates love it, it helps me out, and it's cool to have the confidence behind me from my teammates. They boost me to steal, they're still behind me."
What's it like stealing three or four bases in a game?
"It feels good, knowing I can steal bases like that," said Hamilton, who was encouraged to run during previous Spring Trainings spent with former big leaguers Delino DeShields and Joe Morgan. "Most times guys don't like to draw walks, and I'm walking more this year, so I know if I can get on base, I can steal a bag. The main thing is trying to get on base."
Last season in the Midwest League, Hamilton had 133 strikeouts and 52 walks in 135 games. This year, in 47 contests, he's struck out 37 times while drawing 22 walks. When he hears or reads about people saying he whiffs too much or isn't the ideal leadoff man, it only makes him more determined.
"Every day I'm just hearing how I can't hit or stuff like that, and it motivates me to get my hitting better," said Hamilton, who is batting .316. "I'm shortening up more than I did last year, putting the ball in play and not striking out so much. Shortening up is helping me out."
As far as the record goes, Nixon will probably retain his mark as Hamilton's numbers -- he's got a .384 on-base percentage -- will probably prompt the Reds to move him to Double-A Pensacola before the season is over. Some Reds fans wouldn't mind seeing the speedster up in the Majors later this year too.
"I have no idea, I don't talk to [the Reds] like that. I keep coming out, showing them here every day that I'm working," Hamilton said of a potential promotion. "They want to see if I can adjust, how I get through this season. I'm not going to worry about when I'm struggling or playing well, they want to see if I can do it every day. That's the main key to moving up."
So far, Hamilton has been as advertised and more.