The San Francisco Giants made an intriguing addition to the spring training mix when speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton was signed to a minor league contract. What are his chances of making the team?
The 29-year-old has played in parts of seven seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, and Atlanta Braves. At this point, his career is pretty easy to summarize.
He is an excellent defender with elite speed who struggles mightily in the batter’s box.
Over the course of his career, he has been worth 58 DRS and 11.2 UZR, so his value with the glove is obvious.
That is the type of defense the Giants sought when they were looking for an upgrade in center field following the 2017 season. In fact, they nearly acquired Hamilton from the Reds in December 2017. The Reds were seeking touted outfield prospect Heliot Ramos, and the Giants wisely had no interest in moving him for Hamilton.
A lot has changed since then, and Hamilton’s on-field value has plummeted to the point that the Giants were able to reel him in on a minor league pact.
Throughout his career, the fleet-footed outfielder has posted a .242/.297/.326 (68 OPS+) line in 3,089 plate appearances. That includes a 7.1 percent walk rate against a 20.8 percent strikeout rate.
Hamilton has never had a problem hitting Giants pitchers as he has posted a .839 OPS against his current employer. Perhaps, there is value in keeping Hamilton, just so the Giants do not have to pitch against him.
The low walk rate combined with the low batting average make it tough for Hamilton to make full use of his speed on the base paths. When he does get on base, he wreaks havoc.
To this point in his career, he has accumulated 299 career stolen bases, which includes an 81.3 percent success rate. There is no doubt that he creates a lot of value with his feet.
However, the issue will always remain with his bat.
The Giants produced a below average OPS+ as a team in 2017 (81), 2018 (85) and 2019 (84), and adding a player like Hamilton who has a limited offensive profile raises an obvious question.
Can the Giants afford to use a roster spot on a player with such limited upside in the batter’s box given their own struggles at the plate?
Of course, he has to make the team first since he was brought in on a minor league deal. To do that, he will have to perform in spring training.
Beyond that, the Giants seem intent on giving Jaylin Davis, Austin Slater, and Steven Duggar long looks. Additionally, Joe McCarthy, Chris Shaw and Kean Wong should see some time in the outfield along with the non-roster invitees.
Giants team president Farhan Zaidi has emphasized that he likes creating competition in spring training, and adding Hamilton could certainly pressure the younger players to perform.
The limited track record among that outfield group may have been a selling point for Hamilton. He may feel that the Giants give him the best opportunity for playing time, so he can showcase his skill set to potential suitors.
It is possible, if not likely, that Hamilton does not even break camp with the Giants. Oftentimes, when a player with substantial major league experience signs a minor league contract, they negotiate multiple opt-out clauses so they have the flexibility to pursue other opportunities.
With his glove and speed, Hamilton possesses the type of skill set that many teams covet. However, on a rebuilding Giants team, his fit is a bit of an odd one. As a team, the Giants were worth 46 DRS in the field in 2019, meaning that team defense was one of their strengths.
Hamilton adds to this strength, but lacks the offensive profile that the team really needs.
Does it make sense for Hamilton to make the Opening Day roster?
Probably not, and if the Giants are intent on giving playing time to their younger outfielders, then it is likely that Hamilton is with a different organization on Opening Day.