How the Giants can get the most out of Billy Hamilton

Giants outfielder Billy Hamilton. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Giants outfielder Billy Hamilton. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

The Giants signed speedy free-agent outfielder Billy Hamilton. Despite his lackluster offensive production, there are still ways for him to make an impact.

Last week, the San Francisco Giants added arguably the fastest player in baseball to their roster.

Outfielder Billy Hamilton was inked to a minor league deal with an invite to MLB camp, and he will get a long look as a potential answer to the team’s center field question.

According to Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area, he is someone of the team has shown interest in for quite some time:

The above analysis sums ups the pros of the signing. He has unmatched speed on the base paths, which translates to an ability to cover center field gap-to-gap with ease.

Hamilton swiped 13 bases in 13 games as a late-season call-up for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, before taking over as the team’s everyday center fielder the following year. He stole 53 bases to finish second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, but his .250/.292/.355 batting line was a sign of things to come.

While he has racked up 299 stolen bases over the course of his career, fifth among active players, he is a career .242/.297/.326 hitter over 3,089 big league plate appearances.

He is also coming off his least productive full season in the majors. In 2019, Hamilton had just 22 stolen bases and a rough .218/.289/.275 slash line in 353 plate appearances as he became a part-time player.

To his credit though, Hamilton turned things around late in the season after being cut loose by the Kansas City Royals and claimed by the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 19.

He hit .268/.375/.317 with 11 hits and seven walks in 48 plate appearances with his new team.

So how can the San Francisco Giants make the most of this signing?

The late improvement in 2019 could hint that Hamilton made an adjustment at the plate or felt more comfortable on a new team. Either scenario benefits the Giants.

If his spring training numbers are close to what he did with the Braves, he could crack the Opening Day roster and find his way into the lineup.

The biggest factor will be proving he can get on base at even a league-average rate, while also cutting down his career strikeout rate of 20.8 percent.

Even if he does not break spring training as the team’s starting center fielder, Hamilton can still provide value in a supporting role.

Still just 29 years old, he can and will continue to produce with his legs for years to come.

Even if he is reduced to a pinch runner and late-game defensive replacement, he is one of the best in the business in both categories. Aside from his impressive stolen base total that was referenced earlier, he has also tallied an impressive 58 Defensive Runs Saved in center field during his time in the majors.

Signing him to a minor league deal is a no-risk move, and if he does win a roster spot, he has a chance to be a steal.

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If he shows a willingness to work on his approach at the plate and makes an effort to up his on-base percentage, Hamilton could even become the team’s leadoff hitter since the Giants lack a traditional speedster to set the table.

No matter what, he’ll be one to watch this spring.