- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Take out a $10 bill and celebrate because Wednesday night was one for the Hamiltons. Josh Hamilton, a polarizing figure in baseball with a monster contract and less-than-stellar numbers in his first year with the non-contending Los Angeles Angels, smacked a ninth-inning home run and later delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly as his team upended the first-place Oakland Athletics. Then there was unrelated speedster Billy Hamilton enjoying his first big league start with three hits, two runs scored and a pretty sweet four stolen bases, as his Cincinnati Reds solidified playoff standing with a 13-inning win over the Houston Astros. Which Hamilton would you rather have in 2014 fantasy drafts?
Despite the fact the older Hamilton owns an MVP award and 182 career home runs, the case certainly can be made for the 23-year-old with game-changing speed and seven career at-bats. I’d take the power hitter first, at this point probably in the third or fourth round, banking on the marginal second-half improvement and significant upside. After all, Josh Hamilton hit 43 home runs last season. He has hit many fewer fly balls in 2013 and the ones he has hit have not traveled as far, but it’s certainly feasible both he and teammate Albert Pujols can bounce back to close to prior levels of production. Hamilton’s lack of plate discipline has been well documented, but he also has played through various injuries. I just find it hard to believe someone with his amazing talent will hit .245 with fewer home runs than Marlon Byrd consistently. Hamilton, hitting .317 in September and .279 since the All-Star break, will come at a discount, so you won’t need a second-round pick to secure him. It’s hardly a stretch to expect future 30-100 seasons.
Billy Hamilton’s issue could be opportunity and performance. After all, he has been with the Reds for nearly three weeks and this was his first start, and perhaps that happened only because the Reds were in an AL park and could use the designated hitter and bat him ninth. Hamilton handled center field in oddly shaped Minute Maid Park adeptly, so that doesn’t seem an issue, and current leadoff option/center fielder Shin-Soo Choo is a free agent. But Hamilton has to play like he did Wednesday consistently. At the plate, he slashed a double the opposite way to left field off right-hander Brad Peacock and later scored; singled to left and stole second base; slapped an infield single to third base, stole second and later scored; walked and stole second; struck out looking and finally walked and stole second. That’s a monster fantasy night with four steals considering only 14 players have that many stolen bases in September. Hamilton has nine steals this month, in seven at-bats.
Alas, Hamilton hit .256 at Triple-A Louisville and seemed overwhelmed at the plate, with a low walk rate and high strikeout rate, and one start against Brad Peacock and middling relievers doesn’t change all that. On Wednesday, Hamilton played small ball. He took pitches, slapped hits in the infield and to the opposite field. If he could do that consistently we’d have a dominant fantasy asset, a potential first-round pick who could steal 100 bases, more than some entire fantasy teams. I mean, I’ve heard owning Vince Coleman for fantasy in the late-1980s was just a blast. But we’re not there yet. Own Hamilton the final week-plus for the steals, but playing time is not guaranteed. For Josh Hamilton, he doesn’t have the statistical impact in any one category the way Billy Hamilton does, but when he’s right he’s contributing all around. Regardless, each looks like a potential top-50 pick on the next draft day.
Box score bits (NL): Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen launched his 20th home run Wednesday, giving him his third consecutive 20-homer, 20-steal season. This remains a sure first-rounder in 2014 drafts, perhaps right after Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout in some order, and likely the 2013 NL MVP. Incidentally, McCutchen is the sixth 20/20 player so far, joining Trout, Carlos Gonzalez, Hunter Pence, Carlos Gomez and Will Venable. Coco Crisp and Ian Desmond are each one stolen base away. … Milwaukee Brewers rookie Sean Halton smacked a grand slam Wednesday, his third home run in a week. Halton, 26, hasn’t distinguished himself as a minor league power hitter, but add him while he’s hot. … San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain continues to show he’s better than people think. He dominated the New York Mets Wednesday, allowed an unearned run in 7 2/3 innings, and his ERA is 2.34 over the past two months. Don’t let him slip outside the top 15 starting pitchers next draft day. … It’s hard to trust Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton, but he permitted two hits and a run in eight innings Wednesday, with nine strikeouts. He’s had only one rough outing in two months.
Box score bits (AL): Those scared to use Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma at Detroit Wednesday missed out on eight shutout innings and a victory. Iwakuma is the No. 8 starting pitcher on the Player Rater for the season! He’s scheduled for one more outing, next Monday against Kansas City. Use him. Next year, he’ll likely be undervalued and slip outside the top 20 starting pitchers, though there’s really no great reason for it. … Remember when Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was valuable? He supplied a home run among three hits and stole a base Wednesday, perhaps his best game of the season. He also has 35 strikeouts and three walks. Leave him on free agency. … Texas Rangers lefty Derek Holland got back on track with six innings of two-run ball at Tampa. Holland’s first three September outings were quite poor, and he still hasn’t won in more than six weeks, but he should be used for his next outing against the Astros. … Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Danny Valencia had two more hits Wednesday, and is hitting .405 in September. He’s hitting lefties and right-handers now, if you need a deep-league third base/corner option.
Take out a $10 bill and celebrate because Wednesday night was one for the Hamiltons. Josh Hamilton, a polarizing figure in baseball with a monster contract and less-than-stellar numbers in his first year with the non-contending Los Angeles Angels, smacked a ninth-inning home run and later delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly as his team upended the first-place Oakland Athletics.