Reds super-athlete Billy Hamilton is NL Rookie of the Year favorite

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He's the fastest man in baseball. There's little doubt about that.

But Friday's moves might also show that Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton is the most acrobatic player in the game as well.

On a play that looked like a certain out up the first base line, Hamilton juked out the Pirates' Gaby Sanchez and then dove safely into first base on a play that left plenty wondering what had just happened.

Hamilton, in fact, has done a lot of that this season and since he's reached the majors.

He's done plenty of it in the outfield this season and, despite a reputation as a guy who can't hit, he held a .285 batting average heading into Saturday's game.

That goes along with 37 stolen bases in 51 attempts.

At 37, he doesn't actually lead the league. The Dodgers' Dee Gordon has 42 and the Astros' Jose Altuve has 41. But don't be surprised if Hamilton takes over that lead before the season is through.

And don't be surprised if all of those guys become the top three in single-season stolen bases among active players. Jose Reyes Jr. holds that distinction currently after strealing 78 in 2007.

A look at the list also reveals an oddity in that, while most of the all-time single-season leaders are from years ago, there is another Billy Hamilton from the late 1800s who holds four of the top 20 all-time seasons. That Billy Hamilton is in baseball's Hall of Fame.

The most recent two guys near the top of that list are Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman. Since then, however, only Reyes and the Red Sox's Jacoby Ellsbury had huge seasons on the all-time list.

Hamilton, however, has the capability to put up season's like they once did.

Overall, stealing bases seems to be devalued in the Moneyball era as teams simply don't want to give away free outs.

But, when a guy can advance bases at an extremely high rate, it makes getting that extra base more worthwhile. Hamilton might just be that kind of player.

Hamilton had some huge minor leagues seasons on the basepaths, which led to his mythical status before he was finally called up late last season. In 2012, he stole 155 bases in the minors. He was over 100 the season before.

And he credits a lot of it to Delino DeShields.

“Delino DeShields is the main guy who really taught me how to steal bases,” Hamilton told a radio station recently. “I didn’t do it in high school. In high school, you just try to hit home runs all the time. As soon as I got drafted, DeShields brought me in (and said), ‘I’m going to teach you how to steal bases.’ I give all credit to him.”

DeShields certainly taught him well. And, speaking of home runs, Hamilton has five of those too. But Hamilton brought the incredible speed to the table. And that speed has helped the Reds win games.

“Every day I wake up, like, ‘When am I going to come out of this dream?,’” Hamilton told the radio station. “I’m in the big leagues. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I still feel like it’s not true; it’s a dream. But as of now, everything’s fine and we’re playing great ball, which is always fun when you’re winning. Everything’s going well for us right now. So every day I come to the (ball park) looking to get another win. We’re having fun. That’s the main thing.”

By the time the season is complete, Hamilton might be a favorite to take home the Rookie of the Year award for the National League. He was called up late enough last season that he still counts for this year.

“We’ve got a lot of baseball left,” Hamilton told the radio station. “I feel like if I keep playing the way I’m playing, it’ll happen. So my job is to come out here every day and keep learning and keep playing ball. If it happens, it happens. It’d be a great honor, but right now, I’m just focusing on getting better, learning stuff and trying to get wins.”

At this point, Hamilton looks like the best candidate. And no one has emerged to contest him.

But, as he said, it's still way too early to call anything a done deal. Except his unreal athleticism. That should be on show for the Reds for years to come.

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Cincinnati Reds
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