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Billy Hamilton: 2015 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Sleeper

The Flash, Sometimes

While Billy Hamilton didn't steal 100 bases last year, his 56 still were good for the second-mostin the league (Dee Gordon, 64). However, Hamilton left more to be desired last year, with only 72 runs scored and a mediocre .250 batting average.

Understandably, Hamilton owners were driven crazy by his inconsistency. It was a risk that most were willing to take on the rookie, owing to his outstanding speed. After the flashes of brilliance last year, I expect Hamilton to mature in 2015.

In order for that maturation to occur, he will have to improve on his unimpressive 0.29 BB/K ratio. The 19.1% strikeout rate isn't terrible, but his 5.6% walk rate is not what you expect out of a speedy leadoff hitter. The Reds are looking for Hamilton to get on base any way possible. If he can improve the walk rate, his status as the leadoff hitter in Cincinnati will be unchanged. He'll also have more opportunities to swipe a base.

What to Expect in 2015

With Hamilton the top center field choice in Cincinnati, he will get plenty of opportunities to mature into a top fantasy outfielder. Hamilton never had a season below a 6.9% walk percentage in the minor leagues. Also, his first season in the minor leagues was the only time he hit below the .250 batting average he displayed in 2014. I also consider his .304 BABIP to be on the low end-- given Hamilton's ability to beat out infield grounders, he should be able to sustain a higher better BABIP.

Interestingly, Hamilton hit 37.3% of the balls he put in play in the air (FB%). That is much higher than his line drive percentage of 21.1% and not far behind his 41.5% ground ball percentage. That FB% is higher than league average, and the GB% is below the league's middle mark. Also of concern was the inflated 13.2% infield fly ball percentage (IFFB%). I predict a shift in Hamilton's batted ball profile this season with improvements to the GB% and  consequent decrease in FB%.

Hamilton had a very impressive 11.2% infield hit rate in 2014.  With that kind of success, expect him to concentrate on keeping the ball down and beating out ground balls with his speed.

In Summary

It's time for Hamilton to take another step forward. I expect his batting average to climb into the .275+ range. His .292 on base percentage will then rise from the combination of improved batted ball percentages and increasing the walk rate. These will lead to more stolen base attempts and successes, perhaps making him this year’s stolen base champion.

Since Hamilton didn’t meet his lofty expectations last year, his position in the draft this year will be lower than it otherwise would be. At the right price or time in the draft, Hamilton will provide your squad value in both runs and average and could be one of the only sources of stolen bases needed.