A couple of weeks ago, I did a breakdown of Taijuan Walker vs Trevor Bauer for fantasy. Continuing in this theme of ‘prospect cage matches,’ let’s take a look at two of the game’s top hitting prospects in the middle infield: Manny Machado vs Billy Hamilton.
The Offensive Tools:
Machado: The Orioles drafted Manny Machado as the 3rd pick in the 2011 draft, and so far in his young career Machado has certainly been worth that pick.
Rated as the 11th best prospect in baseball coming into this season by Baseball America, Machado has earned his rank mostly thanks to a lack of deficiencies in his game rather than one or two elite skills. Machado is considered a good hitter with solid power, and at his peak he could be a .280+, 25-homer guy. While those numbers don’t sound that impressive, they do come with phenomenal plate discipline, as last year in the minors Machado drew 45 walks compared to only 73 strikeouts in 101 games. This plate discipline and power combination could propel Machado to be a high Run / RBI dual-threat.
The only real weakness in Machado’s offensive game is his speed, which is ‘average’ right now, but he’s still young and growing, and will likely turn into below average speed. Overall, Machado has the upside to be a top 5 offensive shortstop and a very good, if not elite 4 category performer.
Hamilton: Talk of Billy Hamilton’s value for both major league baseball as well as fantasy baseball has to start and end with his speed. Billy Hamilton can get from first to second faster than a murder in a Quentin Tarantino movie, faster than Nelson Cruz hits the DL, and even faster than a Kim Kardashian marriage (sorry Kanye). You know Dee Gordon, also known as “That Guy Currently On Pace For 90 Steals Despite A Sub-.300 On Base Percentage”? Well, Billy Hamilton is not only significantly faster than Gordon, stealing over 100 bases last season in just 135 games, but he’s also a significantly better offensive baseball player.
After getting off to a slow start in the first two months of last season, Hamilton managed to hit over .300 after the month of May. This season, he’s been promoted to the offense friendly Cal League, and all Hamilton has done is rake, hitting .353 with a .450 on base and showing much-improved power with a .574 slugging. Hamilton is never going to be a true slugger, but 10 home runs at his peak aren’t out of the question.
The most important thing to note about Hamilton’s game is his plate discipline, which isn’t great but is good enough for him to have a .350+ on base percentage at his peak. When you’ve got that kind of speed, a .350 on base should allow for stolen base total in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, or maybe even in triple digit totals, with absurd runs potential in the 120+ range every season.
The Edge: Hamilton by a ton. For real life, nearly every team in baseball would rather have Machado, but unless you’re in an OBP league or a points league, Hamilton’s dominance in one and possibly even two categories will have him finish in the top 10 on the player rater nearly every time he plays a full season (see Michael Bourne for details, but multiply that by 10).
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Machado: Machado has an above average arm from shortstop, and fine range to field the position for now. His problem is his size, as he stands at 6’3” but weighs only 185 pounds. Machado is only 19 years old, and as he ages he will likely put on some weight, which could force him to move from short to third. Right now I’d say that it’s probably around a 50/50 probability as to whether or not he ends up at short or third, but the good news for the Orioles as well as Machado’s fantasy owners is that his bat will likely let him provide real value at either position.
Hamilton: Thanks to Hamilton’s speed, he’s got more than enough range to field the shortstop position. However, he has his own defensive problems at the position that are the exact opposite of Machado’s. Up until this season, Hamilton had below average arm strength as well as below average fundamentals at short, but so far this season he has looked much better, and more scouts are starting to believe that he can stick at short. If he moves off the position, Hamilton certainly doesn’t have the arm for third, so he’d likely move to second base, or possibly even centerfield. Right now I’d set it at 60% short, 30% second, 10% centerfield.
The Edge: Push. Personally, I would rather have a second basemen than a third basemen, which would seem to put this in Hamilton’s favor, but the fact that he has a small chance to end up in the outfield makes this a push. If Hamilton becomes an outfielder, it won’t kill his fantasy value, but it will certainly hurt it.
Machado: Let’s be honest: the Orioles aren’t the best organization in baseball, and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon thanks to their ownership situation which has been described (by me) as ‘Dan Schneider-esque, without all the money.’ By the time Machado is ready to be an impact fantasy player, the Orioles roster will likely be a newly assembled group of young talent, as by then Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and the rest of the current O’s will have mostly left via free agency or trade. Playing against the AL East is never great for a player’s fantasy value, and I’d put Machado’s chances of being in an above average lineup for most of his Orioles tender at under 25%. The Orioles’ ballpark is probably slightly above average for hitters, so at least Machado has that going for him.
Hamilton: The Reds have signed their core players (Votto, Phillips) for long enough and have enough young-ish talent (Bruce, Mesoraco, Stubbs) that the team will likely still be quite good once Hamilton becomes fantasy relevant. However, there seems to be this idea circulating in baseball circles that Great American Ballpark is an extreme hitters park, but that’s just not the case; in actuality, it’s a good place to hit homers, but a mediocre to below average place to hit balls in play. The park doesn’t really play to Hamilton’s strengths, but the lineup is good enough to make this an above average situation for Hamilton.
The Edge: Hamilton. When the question is Reds vs Orioles, it really doesn’t matter what position you play, I’d rather have my player on the Reds.
Machado: Machado could be ready as early as late 2013, but the Orioles will have no need to rush him to the majors, as their team won’t be near ready for contention by then. I’d set his ETA as more of a mid-2014 call-up, sometime after the Super 2 deadline in July.
Hamilton: Hamilton will likely be ready as early as early 2014, and the Reds do have a slight need at shortstop although Zack Cozart appears to have filled that adequately for now. I think the Reds are going to want to hold Hamilton down a little longer to work on his defensive fundamentals, so I’d set his ETA at mid to late 2014.
The Edge: Manny Machado by a slight amount.
The Verdict: Billy Hamilton over Manny Machado by a medium-sized margin.
There are two types of people in this world: the people who believe in Billy Hamilton, and the people who don’t: there’s not a lot of in-between.
Obviously, I more than fall on the side of believing in Hamilton, as I believe that if he hits his peak, Hamilton could be the first overall pick in most fantasy leagues thanks to his stolen base and runs dominance. If you are faint of heart and have a dearth of intestinal fortitude, Machado is your guy. There is a much higher probability that Machado becomes a solid, 3rd or 4th round type of player than there is of Hamilton becoming that; however, in my leagues which include prospects, I like to swing for the fences with my prospects. And, ironically, Hamilton has a much higher chance of hitting it out of the park for fantasy owners than nearly any other infield prospect in the minor leagues including Machado.
I love Manny Machado for real life, but the problem is a lot of his value is going to come from his above average arm, and well above average plate discipline, neither of which helps all that much for fantasy. On the contrary, speed is so much more valuable in fantasy than in Major League Baseball that I think Billy Hamilton has become extremely undervalued in fantasy circles.
If possible, go get Hamilton before his California League numbers continue to stay extremely inflated and he becomes considered a legit top 15 prospect in baseball, he could be a franchise changer for your team.
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By Moe Koltun, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com. Read more of Moe's excellent fantasy insight over at RotoAnalysis.com. Have a fantasy related question? You can follow the site on Twitter @RotoAnalysis or Moe on twitter@moeproblems.