By John Perrotto
PITTSBURGH -- Devin Mesoraco stood in the corner of the Reds' clubhouse and raved about teammate Billy Hamilton, who had again used his legs to help Cincinnati win another game Friday night.
"He's amazing," Mesoraco, the catcher, said while shaking his head. "Everybody in the ballpark knows he's going to steal. Everybody knows why he's in the game but nobody can throw him out. I don't know how he does it. It's been amazing to watch these last few weeks."
Hamilton has played in nine games since making his major-league debut Sept. 3 after being called up from Class AAA Louisville. The 23-year-old center fielder has put up some supersized numbers in that small amount of time as he has been successful on all 10 stolen bases attempts and scored seven runs. He actually has as many stolen bases as plate appearances, going 3-for-8 (.375) with a double, two walks and a strikeout.
Five of Hamilton's seven runs have either drawn the Reds into a tie, put them ahead or turned out to be the game-winning run. Three of the runs have come in extra innings and six have followed a stolen base.
Hamilton's legend began in his debut when he scored the game's only run in the Reds' 1-0 victory over fellow National League Central contender St. Louis. Four days later, on Sept. 7, he scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Dodgers. On Wednesday, he scored the go-ahead run in the 13th inning of a victory at Houston then scored the tying run in the ninth inning of a 10-inning victory at Pittsburgh on Friday.
Hamilton showed what a difference his speed could make during the win over the Pirates. He entered as a pinch runner in the top of the ninth inning with the Reds trailing 5-3 with two outs and runners on first and third. Hamilton immediately stole second despite a strong throw from catcher Russell Martin. When Mesoraco followed by lining a single off the glove of diving third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Hamilton scored without a throw even though the ball only rolled to the edge of the outfield grass.
So, to repeat Mesoraco's question: How does he do it? Like many people with a special gift, Hamilton gives a simplistic answer.
"It's what I do," Hamilton said with a smile. "I steal bases. That's what I do."
Hamilton has used his blinding speed -- one veteran scout who has been following the Reds in September referred to him as a deer, another as a gazelle -- to rack up huge stolen base numbers since being the Reds' second-round pick in the 2009 amateur draft following his senior season at Collinsville, Miss.
Hamilton had a combined 62 steals in 112 games during his first two professional seasons, both at the rookie level with the Gulf Coast League Reds and with Billings in the Pioneer League. He swiped 103 bags in 135 games in his full pro season in 2011 for low Class A Dayton. Last year, he set the minor-league record with a combined 155 steals in 132 games with high Class A Bakersfield and Class AA Pensacola then had 75 in 123 games this season at Louisville.
That is a total of 395 stolen bases in 502 games over five seasons, a remarkable number, and the lithe 6-foot, 160-pounder says there is no slowing down in sight. He was thrown out just 85 times in the minors giving him a success rate of 82.5 percent.
"I think I've gotten better every year I've been in pro ball," Hamilton said. "A lot of it is that I've been blessed with a lot speed and good instincts but I've worked at it, too. I watch video. I study the pitchers. I have a plan when I'm out there on the bases. I'm not just running wild with no clue."
Since Hamilton has also been compared to a thoroughbred racehorse by scouts, it's fair to wonder if he is a one-trick pony who will struggle to adjust offensively in the major leagues. He hit .280 with a .350 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage in 2,258 minor-league plate appearances. However, he had a .256 batting average and .308 OBP at Louisville this season, drops of 55 and 102 points from his 2012 numbers.
However, Hamilton gets high marks from the Reds, including manager Dusty Baker, for his willingness to learn and ability to absorb information quickly, which gives the Reds confidence he will grew into a top-flight leadoff hitter in the major leagues. They cite how Hamilton was just converted to a center fielder from shortstop last year in the Arizona Fall League but is already considered an above average defender.
"Billy's going to be fine," Baker said. "Billy's not a guy I'll have to worry about."
The Reds could have a need for a center fielder next season if they are unable to re-sign Shin-Soo Choo as a free agent. Hamilton, who prides himself in saying he is fearless, believes he could handle the job.
"I'm not cocky but I have a lot of confidence in myself," Hamilton said. "It's like if I get caught stealing. If it happens, I'm going to run again the next time. If they want to be in the big leagues next year, I'll make sure I'm ready for it."
For now, though, Hamilton is content just to be part of a pennant race while getting acclimated to the big leagues.
"It's exciting," Hamilton said. "It's a dream come true just to get to the big league. To be put in situations where I've been able to make an impact and help the team win so games has been a lot of fun. I didn't know what was going to happen when I got called up but Dusty [has] thrown me right in there in big spots and I've come through."
John Perrotto has covered professional baseball since 1988 for such outlets as USA Today, The Sports Xchange, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and the Beaver County (Pa.) Times. You can find more of his work on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.