Part 4 of 8 in the Dragons 2011 Positional Preview
Today we look at the shortstop position.
Hands on deck: Billy Hamilton, Devin Lohman
Shortstop has been a strong position for the Dragons in recent years. Paul Janish spent parts of the 2005 and '06 seasons in Dayton and is now the Reds starter. Adam Rosales was also with the Dragons in '05-'06 and is now pushing for full-time duty with the Oakland A's after a solid season in 2010. Chris Valaika was the Dragons shortstop in 2007, and he reached the big leagues with the Reds last season. In 2008, Zack Cozart manned the position for the Dragons, and he is on the Reds 40-man roster, likely ticketed for Triple-A Louisville in 2011, but ready to step in at the big league level if needed. Defensive wizard Miguel Rojas was the Dragons shortstop in 2009, and he could some day win a big league Gold Glove award if his bat progresses enough to get him to the majors. He's coming off an injury-plagued 2010 season but has not been written off. And Didi Gregorius played shortstop for the Dragons in 2010, demonstrating strong athletic skills and the potential to someday play at Great American Ballpark.
But as impressive as that list might be, none of the players who have played shortstop at Fifth Third Field arrived in Dayton with the credentials of the youngster slated for everyday duty here in 2011.
To understand the athletic accomplishments of Billy Hamilton, first consider this: he averaged 35 points and 10 assists per game as a high school basketball senior, once poured in 54 points in a state tournament quarter-finals game that saw him sink nine three-pointers, and basketball was his THIRD best sport.
Hamilton is a legend in the tiny Mississippi town of Taylorsville, population 1,341. The town has had more NFL players (4) than traffic lights (0). Taylorsville is the home of Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell. The town has also produced an NBA basketball player, but no Taylorsville native had ever been selected in the baseball draft before the Reds took Hamilton in the second round in 2009.
Hamilton was also an all-state football player and had signed a national letter of intent to play wide receiver at Mississippi State University, where his plan was also to play baseball. But the Reds were able to strike a deal with Hamilton to commit strictly to baseball, and he has not disappointed.
Hamilton enters the 2011 season ranked as the # 2 prospect in the Reds organization according to Baseball America, second only to Aroldis Chapman. He will become the fifth player in Dragons history to play in front of the sell-out crowds at Fifth Third Field as a #1 or # 2 prospect in the Reds system, joining Adam Dunn, Chris Gruler, Homer Bailey, and Jay Bruce. Not since Bruce played for the Dragons in 2006 has any player so highly rated played for the Dragons.
The key to Hamilton's game is his blazing speed. Some have called him the fastest player in professional baseball, and others have gone so far as to say that he could be the fastest baseball player since Deion Sanders. In 2010, Hamilton led the entire Reds organization in stolen bases, a noteworthy accomplishment on its own merit without qualifying the statement by adding that Hamilton's season with Billings did not begin until late June, after the top four clubs in the Reds farm system had already completed half their schedules. Hamilton led the system in steals with 48 despite playing in a "short-season" league.
On six occasions, Hamilton stole at least three bases in a game. On September 6, he stole five bases in a single game. Note that the all-time Midwest League record for stolen bases in a game is six, set in 1951, and the Dragons franchise record is three. From August 2 through the end of the season, Hamilton played in 32 games and stole 29 bases while being thrown out only once. He says his goal is to double his total of 48 in 2011 when he potentially could play in twice as many games as he did in 2010.
Hamilton batted .318 with Billings in 2011 when he was named the Pioneer League's # 1 prospect in a poll of league managers taken by Baseball America. A natural right-handed hitter, he became a switch-hitter in 2010 and hit .309 from the left side of the plate, a very encouraging sign. Hamilton spent most of his time playing second base in 2010 after playing shortstop in 2009. He will back at shortstop in 2011.
The 2010 National League Central division-winning Reds did not have a true lead-off hitter in the lineup, and they will certainly have Hamilton on their radar as he develops.
Devin Lohman, the Reds third round draft pick in 2010 out of Long Beach State, played shortstop for Billings in 2010 and is expected to play in Dayton this season, most likely at second base. His profile appears in the Dragons second baseman preview for 2011. Lohman could play shortstop in Dayton when Hamilton needs a day off, or if the Reds elect to give Hamilton additional experience at second base.