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Southern notes: Hamilton a quick hit

Speedster pleasing fans, skipper since Pensacola promotion
July 30, 2012
The piled-high sandwich, with nine pieces of ham and six pieces of cheese, would seem more fitting for a husky slugger than a skinny speedster. But Billy Hamilton may be the only one able to actually burn off all the calories.

The Billy Ham and Cheese -- sold with sweet potato fries for $8 -- is flying out of the Port Side Grill at the new Pensacola ballpark, and Hamilton is speeding toward a challenge of the Minor League stolen base mark.

The shortstop's pace has slowed a bit since he was promoted from the Class A Advanced California League to the Double-A Southern League, but the mark of 145 set by Vince Coleman in 1983 while with Macon of the Class A South Atlantic League remains within reach.

"I'm not thinking about the record," the top-ranked Reds prospect said. "I'm just trying to get on base and then make something happen. But I know the record is out there, and it would be fun to go for if I got close."

After stealing 104 bases in 82 games with Bakersfield, Hamilton had 11 in his first 16 games with the Blue Wahoos. He had been caught 25 times, four with Pensacola, and needed 30 steals over the final 34 games to tie Coleman's record.

"This is a real good test for him," Pensacola manager Jim Riggleman said of the move to Double-A. "Teams are doing everything they can to stop him. Pitchers have been very quick to the plate, and catchers have made some good throws against him."

Still, the 21-year-old is winning most of the battles.

"He's a game changer every time he gets on," said Huntsville manager Darnell Coles, who saw Hamilton steal second and third before coming around to score in the first inning of a game Saturday. "You don't see someone with that kind of speed very often. He's special."

"Some players are fast and some are quick," Riggleman said. "Billy is both. He gets in top speed in a step or two."

Hamilton was a football recruit for Mississippi State as a wide receiver and remembers being timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.5 seconds as a high school sophomore at Taylorsville, Miss. But he says that he wasn't much of a base stealer.

That quickly changed after the Reds took him in the second round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft and wooed him away from football with a bonus of $623,600.

In 2010, Billings manager Delino DeShields laid down a challenge to Hamilton.

"He said I could be the greatest base stealer in baseball," the switch-hitter recalled.

Hamilton swiped 48 bases in 69 games to lead the Rookie-level Pioneer League and, after moving to Class A Daytona of the Midwest League with DeShields for 2011, stole 103 in 135 games.

Hamilton was the first Minor Leaguer to steal 100 bases since 2001, and his total was five more than the previous record for the Reds organization.

Not completely comfortable yet as a switch-hitter, Hamilton was hitting just .195 in late May last season, but rebounded to hit .316 the rest of the way for Daytona and has hit over .300 this season.

Hamilton, No. 26 on's Top 100 Prospects list, batted .323 for Bakersfield and was hitting .321 for Pensacola through the weekend. He had also drawn 62 walks, giving him a combined .418 on-base percentage.

The leadoff hitter has just two homers among is 31 extra-base hits, but his one homer with Pensacola was a crowd-pleaser. He scored standing up on the inside-the-park shot, circling the bases in 14 seconds.

Hamilton's defense remains a work in progress. He had three errors for Pensacola after committing 25 with Bakersfield and may eventually be a candidate for a position switch.

Riggleman, though, doesn't think that is necessary.

"I haven't seen anything that tells me he can't play shortstop," the former Major League manager said.

If Hamilton becomes an impact player in the Majors, though, it will be because of the way he can change games offensively. The stolen base has been a dying art -- Hamilton is reviving it.

In brief

Happy marriage: Cincinnati owner Bob Castellini visited Pensacola along with general manager Walt Jocketty and other team officials as the Reds and Blue Wahoos announced an extension of their affiliation agreement of four more years. The first-year franchise leads the Southern League in attendance, averaging 4,684 per game, and has sold out 34 of 54 games at its new bayfront ballpark.

Red-hot hitter: Huntsville outfielder Khris Davis had his homer streak end at five games in the series finale at Pensacola on Saturday but was 3-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs. He had another three-hit game Sunday at home against Chattanooga and was batting .490 (25-for-51) during a 13-game hitting streak that pushed his season average with the Stars to .383 in 44 games. He won Southern League Offensive Player of the Week.

Record setter: Hak-Ju Lee, who already had set two Montgomery records, tied Desmond Jennings for the Biscuits' season mark with his 37th stolen base. After earlier hitting safely in a record 21 straight games, the shortstop pushed his record on-base streak to 41 games Sunday against Mississippi. Evan Longoria had the old on-base mark at 37 games.

Brawl ball: A hard slide at the plate by Mobile's Rossmel Perez touched off a benches-clearing brawl in the ninth inning as Mississippi completed a five-game series sweep with a 7-3 victory Saturday. Seven players had earlier been hit by pitches, with Mississippi's Cory Rasmus ejected for plunking Perez. Mobile manager Turner Ward was ejected along with Perez after the melee. Kicked out for Mississippi were Christian Bethancourt and Alden Carrithers.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to