Reds prospect Billy Hamilton
made headlines last year by stealing 103 bases for the Class A Dayton Dragons, becoming the first player in more than a decade to steal more than 100 bases and breaking Cincinnati's organizational record of 98 thefts in the process. Two weeks into the 2012 season, the Blaze's leadoff man aims to become a more complete player and capitalize on his elite prospect status.
Hamilton is off to a fast start, hitting .386 with 13 runs scored and 11 steals in 12 games. The switch-hitting shortstop learned how to work counts and read pitchers last year in Dayton, which helped increase his walk counts as the year went on. Hamilton is hoping to apply those lessons in the California League this season.
"This year will be [learning how] to not strike out so much," said Hamilton, who had 133 strikeouts in 135 games in 2011. "I'm making the pitchers work more than I did last year, instead of going up there swinging at the first pitch."
That approach took Hamilton out of an early-season slump in 2011 and launched him to a strong finish. He hit below .220 in both April and May before batting .318 in the second half.
"I showed I could hit," Hamilton said. "I ended up batting .278. It was a big jump for me."
Hamilton's ability to put hitting together with his speed makes him something special. He attributes his quickness to days he spent running around outside as a kid with his friends in Taylorsville, Miss.
"We were outside every day in the neighborhood," he said with a laugh. "Basically [we learned] how to run by running away from dogs."
The kid grew into a ballplayer and tries to model his game after Miami shortstop Jose Reyes, another special talent who mixes speed and hitting.
"I've watched him a lot," Hamilton said. "I try to do things the same way he does, with his speed and switch-hitting."
Hamilton picked up valuable experience this offseason by playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League. He went 7-for-36 for Ponce but learned more by interacting with Latin American teammates.
"It was good to be around the Latin guys and learn some Spanish because you need to communicate with all your teammates," he said.
Interestingly, Hamilton shares his name with former Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Beaneaters outfielder Billy Hamilton, who set stolen base records at the turn of the last century. That Hamilton played from 1888-1901 and finished his career with more than 900 stolen bases.
Bakersfield's Hamilton has hit the ground running just like his predecessor.
San Jose's statement: The San Jose Giants might have something to prove after their early exit in the 2011 Cal League playoffs. The Giants have rocketed out of the gate with a 11-2 record and had a seven-game winning streak as of Monday night. Shawn Sanford is 3-0 in three starts and managed to win despite allowing six runs over five innings in his second start, April 10 against High Desert.
Bump in the road: Inland Empire right-hander Donn Roach faced his first rough patch of the 2012 season Monday night. He came into his most recent start with a 2-0 record and one earned run allowed over 13 innings but yielded three runs over seven frames against Modesto. He got a no-decision in the 66ers win.
Lancaster's next slugger: JetHawks first baseman Telvin Nash has established himself as the league's home run leader with six bombs so far. Lancaster's hitters are historically known for hitting well at home, but Nash boasts a .357 (10-for-28) average and five home runs on the road.
Chris Martinez is a contributor to MLB.com.