At this point, basepaths in the California League are more like the Autobahn for Billy Hamilton.
The Reds' top prospect outdid even himself Saturday, tying a career high with five stolen bases while going 2-for-4 with a walk, an RBI and two runs scored as Class A Advanced Bakersfield edged Lake Elsinore, 7-6.
The five thefts brought Hamilton's brought his season total to a Minor League-leading 80, nine more than the combined total of the California League's second- and third-best base stealers.
Hamilton acknowledged that he's gotten to the point where, if he sees an open base he wants to take, it's pretty much his call.
"If I wanna go, I go. There's a green light the whole time, anytime," he said. "[Bakersfield manager Ken Griffey Sr.] trusts me, he'll give me the green light. I make my own decision and I like it."
Griffey said he thinks Hamilton can only learn more about stealing if he feels his own way.
"I let him go. The only way I think he can learn is if he runs on his own," said the 19-year Major League veteran and three-time All-Star. "The only time I [give him a signal] is if we need to stop him; and 99 percent of the time, I don't need to do that."
In the first inning, Hamilton walked, stole second and third, then scored on Theo Bowe's single. Two innings later, he only swiped second. And in the seventh, he stole second and third again before coming home on an error.
Hamilton had a pair of four-steal games earlier this season and four times stole three bases. He matched the career best he established on Sept. 6, 2010 with short-season Billings.
"I knew I had the chance to get 80, but it wasn't a plan. If the base was there, I just took it," the 21-year-old Mississippi native said. "All the pitchers know I'm gonna run. They do everything they can, look over, pick off, but it doesn't bother me. I stick with the same lead, same approach. I have the confidence I can get the bag no matter what."
It hasn't just been Hamilton's legs that have been valuable this year. He's walked more, struck out less and hit for a higher average than he has at any other point in his four-year Minor League career.
After Saturday, MLB.com's No. 27 overall prospect is hitting .322 with a .408 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage in 66 games. Having been caught only 16 times, Hamilton sports an 83 percent success rate on the basepaths.
With Class A Dayton last year, he stole 103 bases and hit .278 with a .340 on-base percentage. Since being selected in the second round of the 2009 Draft, he's stolen 245 bases in 313 games across four levels.
His penchant for swiping bags, rare at his level in the modern game, has made him a bit of a fan favorite.
"At home, even on the road, the fans are behind me the whole time," Hamilton said. "When I get on first, you can hear them start cheering a little louder. That's the main thing that gets me going, it pumps me up a little bit."
The Cal League single-season record for steals is 144. Other than that, it's hard to imagine what Hamilton has left to accomplish at this level. But he said he's content to keep suiting up for Bakersfield until he's told to go somewhere else.
"I have no idea at all [when I might be promoted], it depends on what they want," he added. "I just play every day, play hard every day."