There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo at MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye-to-eye. They'll be discussing their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
There's no disputing that Billy Hamilton is the fastest player in baseball. He achieved legendary status with his speed before he even got to Cincinnati, most notably setting a professional baseball record with 155 steals in 2012. He swiped 13 bases after his September call-up this year, despite making just three starts.
In today's Pipeline Perspectives, Jonathan Mayo will tell you that Hamilton is the best leadoff man/basestealing prospect in baseball. On this side of the argument, I'll explain why Delino DeShields Jr. may be the better bet.
Hamilton might be the next Vince Coleman. DeShields could be the next Kenny Lofton.
DeShields isn't as fast as Hamilton -- again, no one in baseball is -- but he isn't going to lose too many footraces. His speed grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He stole 101 bases in 2012 and finished second in the high Class A California League this season with 51.
While Hamilton has the edge in speed, DeShields is better in every other offensive aspect of the game. And no, I'm not seduced by his .317/.405/.468 numbers this year at Lancaster. I'll acknowledge that Lancaster ranks among the most hitter-friendly parks in the Minors.
DeShields is a better hitter than Hamilton. At 21 he's two years younger, but he already has demonstrated an ability to make adjustments at the plate. His batting average has increased and his strikeout rate has decreased in each of his three full seasons as a pro. Hamilton, by contrast, regressed this year at Triple-A Louisville and struggled to adapt to more advanced pitching.
The most important job of a leadoff hitter isn't to steal bases. It's to get on base, because he can't wreak havoc unless he does. DeShields has a significantly higher walk-rate percentage (11.0), compared to 9.5 percent for Hamilton, and his on-base percentage of .366 is 16 points higher than that of Hamilton.
As a bonus, DeShields offers more power as well. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder generates occasional pop from the right side of the plate, and he has a higher slugging percentage (.406 vs. .378) and isolated power (.131 vs. .098; slugging percentage minus batting average) than the six-foot, 160-pound Hamilton.
DeShields could develop further offensively, too, now that his defensive responsibilities will lessen. After playing second base in each of his three full pro seasons, he's shifting to center field in the Arizona Fall League. Hamilton made the same move last autumn.
Line them up next to each other, and Hamilton will outrun DeShields. But put them in the batter's box, and DeShields will outproduce Hamilton. DeShields is on course to reach the Major Leagues at age 22, just like Hamilton did, and he should do more damage offensively when he gets there.
Hamilton may be more explosive and exciting, but DeShields could prove to be the better all-around player.