Reds Caravan: Record-setting Hamilton takes center stage
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The hottest news of the day from the Cincinnati Reds raced into Charleston on the legs of touted prospect Billy Hamilton during the team's annual Reds Caravan stop Thursday night.
The Reds announced Thursday Hamilton, widely known as baseball's fastest player, will start the season with a promotion to play center field for the club's Triple-A Louisville team.
Hundreds of fans gathered to meet Hamilton and fellow Reds players Todd Frazier and Logan Ondrusek as well as other personalities and front office staff at the Town Center Mall.
Hamilton took the center seat on stage Thursday and many Reds fans continue to await his arrival to the big club. Hamilton played shortstop last season between Advanced Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, but made the transition to centerfield during a stint in the Arizona Fall League during the offseason.
That's where some prognosticators anticipate Hamilton will debut for Cincinnati in 2014.
"It wasn't a big reaction," Hamilton said when he received the news of his position switch. "I knew I could do it. It wasn't a big deal to me. They told me I was going to be playing there at some time during the year anyway, so when they told me it was official, I was kind of ready for it in a way."
To prepare Hamilton for the big leagues, Cincinnati promoted Hamilton Thursday and extended the speedster an invite to the club's Spring Training camp.
"I was looking forward to it," Hamilton said of the invitation. "I thought maybe I would get there last year but it didn't happen, but this year when they finally told me the other day I was very excited and I knew once I get a - this is my chance to prove what I can do. Knowing that, I have to go out there and work my butt off and it will pay off."
It's unknown how Hamilton will perform in the outfield, but his speed leaves no doubt. Hamilton stole a professional-baseball record 155 bases in 2012 after swiping 103 in 2011.
Can Hamilton surpass his 2012 total this year?
"That's going to be tough, but I'm just going to steal bases," he said. "If it happens, it happens."
While Reds fans await Hamilton's arrival in Cincinnati, another Caravan attendee in Frazier is expected to play a large role this season. How large that role will be depends on third baseman Scott Rolen.
It's unclear if Rolen, 37, will retire or sign to play another year for the Reds. Rolen's decision is expected this week, as reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer Thursday.
"I wish I knew," Frazier said of Rolen's decision. "That's the big question, so we'll see."
Whether Rolen returns or not, Frazier is expected to see a lot of time at third base. Last season, Frazier spelled both Rolen and first baseman Joey Votto when they were separately designated to the disabled list.
No matter Rolen's choice, Frazier said he's prepared to be the starter at third.
"(I) could be and that's what I'm going to go in thinking that I am the guy," he said. "You got to have that positivity and energy, so that'll be fine with me."
Positivity abounds for the Reds, Frazier said, as the team will look to avenge last season's disappointing finish. Cincinnati won its second National League Central Division title in three years last season. However, the Reds fell in the best-of-five Division Series to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco after winning the first two games.
"There's a lot of unfinished business," Frazier said. "That's the way we're kind of going about it. It's over with, because you can't really go back, but at the same time we won't forget."
Question marks remain at third, while the Reds' NL-leading bullpen is expected to be strong once again. Ondrusek represents just one of Cincinnati's many dependable relievers.
"We push each other to do better all the time," Ondrusek said. "As long as we can keep striving to be the best in the league and we do our jobs, we can win a lot of ballgames that way."
This season, former closer Aroldis Chapman will assume a starting role, a move that is expected to pay dividends for Cincinnati, Reds broadcaster and former closer Jeff Brantley said.
"I think it bodes well for this organization to say 'Well, we had five starters that made 30 starts last year and we're going to add an arm that can throw 100 miles per hour,'" he said. "It only adds to the ability of this club to get to the World Series, and let's face it: that's the object."
With pieces like Chapman, Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto in place, and rising stars like Frazier and Hamilton, that goal, like Hamilton, could be here faster than expected.