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Speedy Hamilton on fast track to major leagues

By JIM WALKER

Tribune Sports Editor

 

CINCINNATI — Getting a good start may help the Cincinnati Reds to a good finish.

The Reds are one game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central Division as the second half of the season gets underway Friday night at home against third-place St. Louis.

The problem the Reds have had all season has been the leadoff spot in the lineup. Several have tried but none have succeeded.

As a team, the Reds are batting .197 in the leadoff spot and have reached base only 24 percent of the time. The best leadoff hitter in the past has been second baseman Brandon Phillips who currently bats cleanup.

However, the answer may lie in minor league base-stealing sensation Billy Hamilton.

With a combination of great speed and quickness, Hamilton already has 103 stolen bases this season and is on a pace to steal 173, thus demolishing the old mark of 145 set by Vince Coleman in 1983.

“My speed is a big part of it right now,” said Hamilton. “You’ve still got to read pitchers and I’m working on that (aspect). It’s not always as easy as it looks.”

Coleman stole more than 100 bases for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1985-87.

“Vince became a student of the game. We think Billy will be a student with those traits himself,” said Bill Doran, a former Reds’ player and now assistant field coordinator in the Reds’ minor league system.

Hamilton played at Class A Bakersfield (Cal.) before participating in the Futures Game on Sunday in Kansas City.

He was promoted to Class AA Pensacola (Fla.) after the game and giving more credence to the possibility he will be with the major league club by September.

The 6-foot, 160-pound switch-hitter has been timed at 3.4 seconds going to first base from the left side of the plate and consistently at 3.85 seconds from the right side.

Reds’ centerfielder Drew Stubbs has been timed under four seconds going to first base from the right side. The average time for a major league batter is 4.2 seconds is from the left side and 4.3 the right side.

Although Hamilton plays shortstop, the Reds could possibly switch the speedster to the outfield. Hamilton has been a liability defensively with 25 errors this season.

Stubbs leads the Reds with 17 stolen bases to go with nine home runs and he is an excellent defensive player. But he is hitting just .215 with 74 strikeouts.

One option that has been mentioned is trading for Philadelphia outfielder Juan Pierre, 34, who is hitting .312 with 20 stolen bases.