Billy Hamilton's speed could be valuable in Sox title chase


What kind of difference can Billy Hamilton make? The White Sox saw it up close.

In the final game of the regular season, Hamilton, playing against the White Sox for the Crosstown-rival Cubs, stole a pair of bases -- including home plate -- in a 10-8 win for the North Siders.

Hamilton's now on the other side of the rivalry, added to White Sox camp on a minor league deal Tuesday. And though that blazing speed might be his greatest asset, it's not all Tony La Russa is hoping to see from the famed base-stealer.

Hamilton has swiped 305 bases in his major league career, second only to Dee Strange-Gordon among active players. If he ends up part of the White Sox big league roster -- either out of camp or at some point over the course of the 2021 campaign -- he'd likely be used in a way that takes advantage of that base-running prowess.

But La Russa wants the veteran outfielder to be able to do everything.

"In Billy's case, he's been a player, not just a baserunner," La Russa said. "He's an outfielder, had some good hitting years. There's no doubt there will be some games where if you can manufacture a run, it's the difference, and Billy's made a career of that.”

Indeed, the White Sox don't want to limit the players on their roster, but it doesn't take much speculating to see the team using Hamilton much like they did Jarrod Dyson, who they acquired in the middle of the 2020 season. Dyson was used as a pinch-runner and a defensive replacement, and certainly Hamilton's skillset allows him to be used in a similar fashion.

It could prove especially valuable once the games start getting really important. A run here and there could be the difference in winning the division, winning a playoff series and winning the World Series. Remember Dave Roberts stealing a base to keep the ALCS alive in 2004, helping to pave the way for a Boston Red Sox world championship. Remember Alex Gordon being stopped at third base, the San Francisco Giants eking out a World Series win over the Kansas City Royals in 2014.

There doesn't figure to be much in the way of playing time up for grabs in the White Sox outfield, with Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert entrenched in their spots in left and center field, respectively. Adam Eaton figures to receive the bulk of the playing time in right field, with Adam Engel a reliable fourth outfielder after he had a nice offensive campaign in 2020. Leury García has been described by La Russa as a regular who just happens to play regularly at a host of different positions, including all three outfield spots.

So while La Russa and the White Sox might want to see more than just speed and defense from Hamilton, it might end up being the majority of what they use him for.

"I know Rick (Hahn) described -- last year when they put Dyson on the roster -- the threat like that late in the game, where you can pinch run him and he can make two or three bases that way, or play him when you have a chance. His speed is a real weapon.

"It's a luxury. You've got to have a deep enough roster where you're protected, have a lot of versatility. ... There'll be sometimes, especially with relievers who are notorious for being tough to hit but easy to run on, that Billy's going to get a real look."

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