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Master thief
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Billy Hamilton was one of the top base stealers in major league history, recording more 100-steal seasons than anyone else and the third most steals ever.

More than 100 years after Hamilton retired, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder who shares his name will attempt to join him in the elite ranks of the 100-steal club.

Only 12 men have been swift, speedy and cunning enough to swipe 100 bags in a season; five did it more than once to account for the 21 such seasons in MLB history. Thirteen of the 21 100-steal seasons came before 1900, while Vince Coleman accounted for the last one back in 1987.

Hamilton, the Reds version, took the minor-league steals record from Coleman by stealing 155 in 2012 and nabbed 13 bases in 13 games while getting just 22 plate appearances after making his major league debut last September.

In 2014, he'll replace Shin-Soo Choo as the team's starting center fielder and, in all likelihood, its leadoff hitter.

Fantasy owners are in on him, bringing his aggregate average draft position (ADP) from Yahoo, CBS, nfbc.stats.com and mockdraftcentral.com to 64.

If he can steal 100 bases, he'll undoubtedly be worth a higher pick than that, as he'll probably be about 45 steals better than anyone else.

Last season, Jacoby Ellsbury led baseball with 52 steals, and only eight players reached the 40-steal mark. Since Rickey Henderson and Coleman stole 93 and 81 bases, respectively, in 1988, nobody has swiped more than 78 in a season.

I don't think 100 steals are out of his reach, provided the Reds give Hamilton enough plate appearances.

Based on his minor league numbers, we can project Hamilton to have roughly a 20 percent strikeout rate and 7.5 percent walk rate this season, so with 700 plate appearances he would strike out 140 times and walk 52 times.

Hamilton's exceptional speed gives him a chance to post a better-than-average batting average on balls in play (BABIP), so if his BABIP is .325 it would amount to 166 hits and a .260 overall average in 638 at-bats (700 PAs minus 52 BBs, five sacrifices and five hit-by-pitches). His on-base percentage in that case would be .320, amounting to 223 times on base.

That means to steal 100 bags, Hamilton would need to steal at least one 44.8 percent of the times he reaches. In the minors, Hamilton had a steal for every 50.3 percent of his times on base.

Obviously, complications will arise if the Reds only give him 600 plate appearances, but even in that case I think Hamilton could steal 80 bases with ease. We're talking about a once-in-a-generation talent on the basepaths.

Plus, leading off in front of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips will provide him with plenty of run-scoring opportunities, especially after stealing his way into scoring position.

Hitting first will also give Hamilton more of a chance to bat with the bases empty due to the presence of the pitcher in the nine-hole, so there won't be anyone in his way from taking second or third when he reaches, the opposing battery included.

Pitchers better work on their pickoff move, because Hamilton is a master thief and only a league of Andy Pettittes will be able to slow him down.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.

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