Baseball America’s 48th-ranked prospect entering the season, Billy Hamilton is known for being among the fastest players in Minor League Baseball. Last year he used that speed to his advantage, becoming the first player in a decade to steal 100 bases in a season. He’s off to another great start this season, hitting .356/.447/.589 with 19 steals in 19 games for the Bakersfield Blaze in the California League.
I had a chance to speak with Billy last week. We talked about whether or not he wants to race other fast minor leaguers, the time last year that he scored from first base on a single, and the pregame routine he follows to help him be a better base stealer.
Obviously with you, your big thing is your speed, and I’ve seen that referred to recently as “faster than an 80” on the scouting scale and “faster than Wile E. Coyote.” Were you always fast or is that something that sort of noticeably developed over time?
Oh yeah, I was always fast, even when I was younger. I used to just go around racing everybody, just for the fun of it, just cause I was fast. I don’t know how I got the speed. My whole family pretty much has speed. My sister could probably beat me. [laughs]
No, I’m more of a game-speed guy. When I get into the game, throwing and everything, I’m not more of a racer.
So you’re fast first to third, first to home, that sort of thing?
Yeah, I can run bases, stealing, running from home to third. More of a straight line, not like if I was racing somebody. Other than that I’m more of a game speed, a game-changing guy.
I saw that Trout scored from first on a single the other day, I don’t know if you’ve seen that. Have you ever done anything like that? Scored on a single or had a play that not a lot of people have done?
Yeah I did last year, it was a game winner, the bottom of the ninth and I did it from first to home.
So you did it with some style.
I did it without stealing so it was pretty good.
Just a single? You weren’t running on the pitch or anything?
Nah I wasn’t running on the pitch, none of that. Just a single
That’s pretty impressive.
I don’t know how the centerfielder was playing it, the ball went over the shortstop’s head, and I guess the centerfielder didn’t have a strong arm. I just kept going, there was a play at home but other than that…
When it comes to stealing bases, that’s about more than just speed, obviously. What kind of studying and preparing do you do to help you get an advantage on opposing pitchers and catchers?
I go out there every day and just get a feel for my spot, where I wanna be every time I get my lead, read the pitcher and stay focused on them. It gets to the point where I don’t have to worry about getting back or getting picked off, and more of a one way lead, all I’m thinking about is going and not worried about getting back. That’s basically what I do every day and just make the pitchers work a little bit so the hitters behind me will get some fastballs and be able to drive me in.
You say that you get to your “spot”. Do you have a spot that you aim for no matter who is on the mound or who’s behind the plate? Or does it depend on who you’re playing against?
It stays the same, it’s just different from righthanders and lefthanders. It’s mostly the same for all righthanders and mostly the same for all lefthanders. I just want to get to a certain spot where I know that I can get back with ease and not worry about getting picked off. I go out there when I take BP, I go out to the outfield and see the different cuts in the grass, and get a feel for where I need to be at. That will help me out in the game, won’t have to worry about going on first pitch or whatever, I’m already ready at the start of the game, I just need to worry about where I need to be.
Is there anybody that you hear about, a pitcher that has a good move that you hear about beforehand that you look out for? Or do you not worry about that?
I mean I don’t worry about them, most of them have a good move anyway, and most of them are gonna try to be quick; it all looks the same to me. I try not to worry about them, make them worry about me so much they’ll leave a pitch for my second batter.
Are you familiar at all with baseball history? Specifically the “Original” Billy Hamilton, who was a great base stealer in the 1890’s?
Nah, not really. I mean I heard before when people were talking about looking for me on Google and being like, “That’s not you, that’s a white guy.” Other than that I don’t know about him. I guess he was a base stealer?
Yeah he had 900-something stolen bases in his career, he stole 100+ two or three years in a row.
Last year you kind of called your shot with the number of bases you wanted to steal. You wanted to double your total from the year before, then you did that and realized that you were close to 100 and figured, “Why the heck not?” After the season did you go back and look at the history of the guys who had stolen 100 bases in the minors, just to appreciate how rare that is?
Nah I didn’t. I knew it was something crazy, I knew it was pretty good but I didn’t go back and do the research or anything like that. I just look forward to the next season to do it again; I’m not setting any goals for this year for stolen bases. I mean whatever happens, happens this year.
That was the last thing that I wanted to ask you about. When I was looking it up, I saw that the Bakersfield record for stolen bases is 144, that was set by Donell Nixon way back in 1983. That’s actually one off the minor league record too, I believe. Is there a number that you’re aiming for this season? Or just, like you said, “As they come”?
Yeah, just as it comes this year. Last year I was trying to double my record or whatever, this year whatever I get, I get. I’m still gonna keep running, just if I get to 100 it’ll be alright. I’m just not setting any goals I’m just gonna play.
So I shouldn’t ask if you’re going to steal 145 and break that record?
Well I mean, if it happens it happens you know? I’m gonna try but if it doesn’t happen I’m not gonna be mad and if it does happen I’m not gonna be mad. [laughs] It’s all good.
Thank you to Billy for his time and Bakersfield’s Dan Besbris for coordinating the interview. Special thanks to Chris for handling the transcription.