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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Transaction ketchup: Josh Hamilton

The Reds' first rule-5 selection (well, actually, it was the Cubs' selection, who then gave the guy to the Reds in exchange for cash) this past December, Josh Hamilton, is an interesting move, and is one for which it's very difficult to predict the outcome. Hamilton, now 25, was the first overall selection in the 1999 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. First, let's look at his career stats:
1999/TB-Rk 251 17% 5% 4.0% 17 85% 0.378 0.593 0.971 0.318
1999/TB-A- 75 19% 1% 0.0% 1 50% 0.213 0.236 0.449 0.155
2000/TB-A 423 17% 6% 3.1% 14 70% 0.348 0.476 0.824 0.276
2001/TB-A 13 23% 15% 7.7% 0 ---
0.462 0.727 1.189 0.390
2001/TB-AA 95 23% 5% 0.0% 2 100% 0.221 0.236 0.457 0.158
2002/TB-A+ 234 20% 9% 3.8% 10 91% 0.359 0.507 0.866 0.288
2006/TB-A- 55 20% 9% 0.0% 0 0% 0.327 0.360 0.687 0.237
Drafted as a high school outfielder, Hamilton had an extremely successful first year in the Tampa Bay system, hitting 0.347/0.378/0.593 in 236 AB's in rookie ball, along with 17 steals at a very high percentage. He continued to show good advancement in his section year, hitting 0.302/0.348/0.476 in Class-A Charleston. He didn't play much in '01 (perhaps that's when his troubles began?), but again showed steady improvement as a 21-year old in A+ Bakersfield in 2002. Nevertheless, due to charges related to substance abuse, Hamilton missed the 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons. That's a long, long time to be away.

He returned last year for a few games, hitting an unimpressive 0.260/0.327/0.360 in 50 AB's, but that's far too small a sample to conclude much. Hamilton was a high-average, high-power kind of hitter earlier in his career, but it's anybody's guess how much of that is left...and, even if it is, whether he'd be able to make the absurd transition from A-ball to the major leagues this year as a 25 (going on 26)-year old. ... Though I will say that most serious analysts are extremely skeptical that he'll be able to do anything next year, or perhaps ever.

The fact that he's a Rule-5 selection makes it a reasonable possibility that he might get on the opening day roster by default, except that the Reds are currently sporting a whole lot of outfielders who are competing for those 5 spots: Dunn, Griffey, and Bubba Crosby would seem to be locks, as are Freel and Conine, though the latter two can also play infield positions, so we'll count them as half-time outfielders. That leaves Chris Denorfia as the fifth guy on the list, and he absolutely should be our starting center fielder next year. And, on top of that, Norris Hopper deserves to be in contention for the #5 spot. Hamilton should rank behind all of those guys, though I can certainly imagine him usurping Hopper's spot. But putting him above Denorfia? That'd be ridiculous.

If he doesn't make the squad, there might be a fallback plan for the Reds. There has been speculation that the trade of Brendan Harris to the Rays for a player to be named later would allow the Reds to name Hamilton as the player to be named later and thus send him to the minors. If that works out, this might be the best case scenario for Hamilton, who undoubtedly could use a season (at least) in the minor leagues to get his skills back on track. I'm hopeful that this is what transpires, but we'll have to wait and see.