SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A team that has, at all turns, preached diversity and creativity and flexibility in roster-building might have the most different player in baseball with which to play.
The Giants had been curioubs about Billy Hamilton for years, an itch that was scratched a week ago, when they brought the speed-freak outfielder in on a minor league deal.
The 29-year-old does not have a guaranteed Opening Day job, but does have the staff excited to figure out exactly where he fits. Hamilton, who broke into the majors in 2013 with the Reds and immediately became a fascination, his legs a weapon few can match, but has never hit enough to be a surefire starter.
Last year he bounced around with both Kansas City and Atlanta, stealing 22 bags in 119 games, but slashing a combined .218/.289/.275.
“It’s an added layer of stress for the opposition when Billy Hamilton is on base,” said Gabe Kapler, who knows from experience with Philadelphia.
The Giants, who have a fluid outfield and a desire to be creative with the extra, 26th man this year, have been working on getting Hamilton to hit more line drives and less ground balls. It’s a bit untraditional — track stars used to get encouraged to chop grounders — but just 23.6 percent of Hamilton’s batted balls last season were hard-hit, according to Fangraphs. He hit 38.7 percent of balls on the ground, actually less than usual in a poor season.
“I think we’re going to focus on Billy continuing to stay to the middle of the field. … Not being so focused on beating the ball into the ground,” Kapler said Sunday at Scottsdale Stadium. “We know ground balls are good for Billy Hamilton, but we know line drives are better for him. We’ll keep our focus on midlevel line drives to the middle of the field.
“… He puts the ball on the grass, that’s a possible double.”
As the Giants challenge Hamilton, they’ll also challenge themselves about how creative they can get with him.
“He can start games for us, he can pinch-run for us — maybe earlier than you might expect — and then stay in the game and capitalize on the great defense,” Kapler said. “Ultimately he could also be used as a late-inning pinch-run option.”
The early ask of Tyler Beede, who is competing for the fifth rotation spot, involves his trusting his pitches more. They don’t want to see him throw an early ball with his, say, changeup, and then abandon the pitch, Kapler said.
They were happy with his bullpen session, which Kapler said entailed 15 out of 20 strikes with his offspeed.
“We see him as potentially an impact major league starter,” Kapler said of yet another pitcher the Giants are stretching out before making real starter/reliever decisions. “We continue to focus on his development with that in mind.”