It's not exactly news that Billy Hamilton is going to spend the majority of the 2013 season in Triple-A. After all, with no experience above Double-A and an outfield for the Reds without an opening, there was no scenario that plays out with Hamilton making the Reds Opening Day roster as anything more than a backup, something that they would never do.
Still, it was a smart move by Reds GM Walt Jocketty to nip things in the bud and come right out and say that this was the plan, as he did on Thursday at the Reds Caravan, according to John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Things have a way of happening during spring training, especially with exciting young prospects. Usually it's with a fresh, lived-armed pitching prospect who comes into camp throwing in the upper-90's with movement no one has ever seen. Sometimes it's with a young hitter who clearly needs more time in the minors but gets red-hot for a few weeks and taps into his plus-power by blasting a couple of home runs in exhibition games off of a bunch of non-roster invitees who will be pitching in Korea in a few weeks.
It happened in Mets camp in 2010 with Jenrry Mejia. Then just 20-years-old and still untouched by a surgeon's knife, Mejia came into camp throwing darts with a combination of movement and velocity that his teammates could barely catch, let alone his opponents be able to hit. Players and fans became so enamored with Mejia that the Mets rudderless front office bought in and veered away from their plan to allow the raw Mejia to develop in the minors as a starter. Despite having at that point thrown less than 45 innings above A-ball, the Mets broke camp with Mejia in their bullpen.
Of course he struggled as a reliever in the majors, was sent down to get stretched back out as a starter, and eventually hurt his arm and required Tommy John surgery. He has yet to return to the pitcher he was.
Last spring, Starling Marte put together a Roy Hobbs-ian string of at-bats in spring training. Marte was the Pirates top hitting prospect and had just come off a strong season at Double-A at the age of 22, so buying into his hot spring wouldn't have required nearly the leap of faith that the Mets took with Mejia. Yet the Pirates were patient. They had a need for a corner outfielder, a role Marte ultimately filled by season's end, but they made the correct decision to send him to Triple-A and complete his development against the most advanced pitching the minor leagues has to offer, a smart move given Marte's trouble with right-handed breaking pitches.
Billy Hamilton, with his dynamic speed and game-changing aggressiveness, is exactly the kind of player who can make intelligent people change their minds and deviate away from what was originally a sound plan.
This spring, Hamilton will get more playing time with the other Reds major leaguers than he ever has before, giving his future teammates and fans their first real glimpse of the total package he has to offer. You can bet your house that within in the next two months, there will be no shortage of articles and stories about Hamilton's crazy speed and how much he could help the Reds right now. There will undoubtedly be quotes from teammates saying how he's the fastest player they've ever played with, and while player quotes are usually a hyperbole-fest, this time they'll be right.
But buying into the impending hype would be a mistake for the Reds. Besides not having a place to play him this year, which ultimately makes this an easy decision to make, Hamilton is still learning how to play center field. Having only played it on a regular basis in the Arizona Fall League, Hamilton likely needs close to a full season to develop into an outfielder who does more than just make up for mistakes with his speed. He also needs a little more time to refine the nuisances of his offensive game.
The Reds have done a good job squashing the inevitable excitement that is bound to surround Hamilton before it starts. By doing so, they have set themselves up to make the right decision and make the most out of Hamilton's exceptional talent.