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01/19/11 9:53 AM EST

Hamilton on fast track to be Reds' leadoff man

Speedy prospect could move up organizational ladder quickly

CINCINNATI -- In a couple of years, the offseason searches and concerns about who will be the Reds' leadoff man might finally evolve into one definitive name -- Billy Hamilton.

A shortstop and 2009 second-round Draft pick, Hamilton is only 20 but could advance quickly.

"He's a kid we cannot, and will not, be afraid to push. He has too much ability," said Reds vice president of scouting, player development and international operations Bill Bavasi. "We think a lot of him. He's from a good-looking crop of guys that popped out from Billings and Arizona. He's certainly one of the top guys in that group."

Hamilton struggled during his first year of pro ball, but returned in 2010 with Rookie-level Billings to bat .318 with a .383 on-base percentage and an organization-leading 48 stolen bases in 57 tries -- all numbers that indicate a guy who can lead off a lineup.

In one game, on Sept. 6, Hamilton stole five bases. He also had a stretch during July and August in which he reached base in 21 consecutive games.

Defensively, Hamilton played 55 of his 69 games at second base. But his range and ability have him projected to be a shortstop.

Baseball America named Hamilton the best prospect of the Pioneer League, and more recently, the No. 2 prospect in the Reds' system. He was also rated as the best athlete and fastest baserunner in the organization.

"He does all the things you want. He's got speed and can run. He has a good arm," Bavasi said. "He's got the aptitude to lead off. I really believe he can be a leader. No matter the situation -- on or off the field -- I hope he's someone who keeps developing, because he gets it. He's not afraid to discuss anything at any time."

Last fall during instructional league at the club's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., Bavasi recalled walking through the equipment room and finding Hamilton leading an entourage of three gentlemen who looked freshly scrubbed from business school. Hamilton was enthusiastically giving the group a tour around the well-appointed facility until finally turning them over to the equipment manager.

"It was the three umpires assigned to our place," Bavasi said. "He was the first kid they saw. They didn't know who he was, and he just said, 'Come with me.' This is stuff that won't make or break his Major League career, but he's that way. He's not afraid to take on responsibility. Those makeups don't come often. He's a really interesting guy and we're lucky to have him."

Although the final decision won't be made until late in Spring Training, all signs point to Hamilton starting 2011 at Class A Dayton. The usually loyal Dragons fans would be wise not to hesitate heading to Fifth Third Field to watch him play. He might not be there long.

"We'll let this kid keep seeking his own level," Bavasi said. "He's got the makeup to struggle a little bit and get through it. We won't hold him back."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.