Amidst his chase for the Minor League stolen base record, it might be overlooked that Billy Hamilton is turning into a pretty good hitter as well.
The Reds' top prospect went 3-for-4 with a triple, matching a career high with three RBIs, and yes, stealing three bases as Double-A Pensacola beat Chattanooga, 7-3, on Sunday. It was his fifth straight game with a hit, three of which have been multi-hit efforts.
The shortstop has boisterously run his stolen base total to 139 this season, now just six shy of the Minor League record of 145. But he has also quietly made a lot of progress with his bat.
"He's becoming a pretty good line-drive hitter," said Pensacola hitting coach Tony Jaramillo. "He can always resort to being a slap hitter rather than a pure line-drive hitter if he needs to, but he's a real wiry, strong kid. He does have some pop."
Last season with Class A Dayton, Hamilton broke out as a base stealer when he swiped 103 bags in 135 games. He hit .278 with a .700 OPS, though, getting on base at a .340 clip and slugging .360 for the Dragons.
This year, his numbers reflect a more mature, capable hitter. Beginning the year at Class A Advanced Bakersfield, he batted .323 with a .413 on-base percentage. In 82 games with the Blaze, he walked nearly as many times (50) as he did all of last season (52).
"He's making good progress. He's more of a patient hitter than I thought he would be," said Jaramillo. "If it's a 3-1 count, he'll take it to 3-2, put pressure on the pitcher and he'll leave it up to one pitch. He'll put a good swing on it or take a walk, it's pretty impressive for a young player. I wouldn't say it surprised me, but I'm definitely impressed."
A promotion to the Southern League from the hitter-friendly California League hasn't deterred Hamilton either. After Sunday's game, he's hitting .288 with a .410 OBP and .405 slugging mark for the Blue Wahoos in 31 games. He's managed to walk 23 times with only 25 strikeouts.
Jaramillo said they've worked with the 21-year-old switch-hitter on slowing down his lower half when he bats from the right side, eliminating a front-foot tap that makes his stride too long. On the left side, they've tried to get him to stay on top of the ball so he can produce a more level swing and drive it.
Jaramillo thinks Hamilton is developing into a legitimate hitter for average, with enough gap power and speed to turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
"No doubt about it, he'll definitely be a .300 hitter," the hitting coach noted. "He hits the ball hard when he hits it. If it's in the gap, it's a for-sure triple. He hit one today over the center fielder's head and it was the easiest triple you've ever seen. Coasting into third just to see if they're overthrowing the relay.
"He's really committed to working on his swing."
In total this year, Hamilton is hitting .315 with a .412 OBP and .431 slugging percentage in 113 games between the two levels. He's hit 20 doubles, 13 triples and two home runs.
On Sunday, Wirfin Obispo (5-0) scattered two runs on five hits and two walks with five strikeouts over six innings to earn the win.