There were 2,486 stolen bases in the majors last season, a whopping 793 fewer than in 2012.
Teams value power far more than speed and are wary of making outs on the bases. The last Red Sox player with 30 steals was Mookie Betts in 2018. Before that it was Jacoby Ellsbury in 2013 (52).
Into this void, potentially, sprints David Hamilton.
The 25-year-old infielder stole 70 bases in 78 attempts for Double A Portland last season, a Red Sox minor league record. As Major League Baseball implements rule changes to encourage more speed and athleticism in the game, Hamilton is well positioned to take advantage.
“I think it’s great to bring that back. The game has been home runs, home runs, home runs for a long time. This will bring some real excitement,” Hamilton said Monday at Fenway Park.
“They seem to want to get guys going again. That sounds great to me.”
Hamilton is one of 11 players the Sox invited to their rookie development program this week. He was added to the 40-man roster in November and will be at spring training.
While not discounting the idea of making the major league team, his next step would be moving up to Triple A Worcester.
Hamilton and other minor leaguers are used to the new rules, which include larger bases (18 inches square, up from 15) and pitchers being limited to two step-offs from the rubber with a runner on base. If there’s a third, the pitcher is charged with a balk, unless he picks off the runner.
The idea is to promote more action.
For a player with Hamilton’s speed, the advantages aren’t necessarily that significant. What should change is that a player with his skills will be more valuable.
“For me, I feel like I can steal a base no matter what,” he said. “But I like the idea behind the rules.”
Hamilton hit .251 with a .740 OPS in 119 games last season. He hit two home runs on Opening Day, which didn’t prove beneficial.
“I was trying to do too much after that. My swing got way too big,” he said. “I tried to be a different player and that hurt me mentally.”
Hamilton lugged a .226 batting average into September but was 24 of 56 in his last 14 games with nine walks and seven extra-base hits. That boosted his on-base percentage to .338.
“I ended well and that helped me,” Hamilton said. “I thought I was a home run hitter and that’s not the case. I’m a line-drive hitter. I need to get on base.”
On-base percentage is ultimately what will determine Hamilton’s career path.
“As a speed guy, someone who relies on getting on base to make things happen, putting the ball in play more consistently is a pretty important factor,” Sox director of player development Brian Abraham said.
“Some of that is approach, some of that is just being more consistent with his swing path and his [pregame] work. We’d like to see him get on base more. At times last year, he got caught in-between what kind of player he was. But we saw some progress late in the season.”
Hamilton got his love of baseball from his father, Dave, who played in the Cincinnati Reds system from 1987-88.
“He’s always been my coach,” Hamilton said. “He was a second baseman, too.”
Hamilton was an eighth-round pick by the Brewers in 2019 then traded to the Sox after the 2021 season. That was the curious deal that sent Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee for Hamilton, Jackie Bradley Jr., and another prospect, third baseman Alex Binelas.
“Definitely a surprise. A shock, really,” Hamilton said. “But I’m happy being with an organization like Boston.”
The Sox used Hamilton at second base and shortstop last season and two games in center field.
“The versatility is important,” Abraham said. “That’s something we wanted to see. He’s solid defensively. He has the talent and tools to change the game. You can’t find that everywhere.”
Righthanders Brayan Bello, Ryan Fernandez, Frank German, Zack Kelly, and Bryan Mata also are taking part in the Sox’ rookie development program, along with lefties Chris Murphy and Brandon Walter, outfielder Wilyer Abreu and infielder/outfielders Ceddanne Rafaela and Enmanuel Valdez.
. . .
The Sox signed 32-year-old lefthander Ryan Sherriff to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to major league spring training.
Sherriff made 44 appearances from 2017-21 with the Cardinals and Rays. He was 3-2 with a 3.65 earned run average and two saves. He pitched twice in the 2020 World Series for the Rays.
Sherriff, who had Tommy John surgery in 2018, was in the Phillies organization last season and appeared in 14 minor league games.