Billy Hamilton

Giants' Billy Hamilton meets Willie Mays, calls it 'dream come true'

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Giants' Billy Hamilton meets Willie Mays, calls it 'dream come true'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Three of the new Giants coaches walked down a clubhouse hallway over the weekend and stopped in their tracks as they approached an old Don and Charlie's booth that has been tucked in under a staircase. Willie Mays was sitting at the table, eating breakfast and laughing as he told stories. 

"That's Willie," one of the coaches whispered as he stood and watched the legend chat with a team employee. 

Mays' first visit to camp always brings a little energy, but there was an added dimension this year. The Giants have so many newcomers who have not yet met Mays, and many of them have been looking forward to getting their chance for months. At the top of that list was Billy Hamilton, who also is a speedy center fielder.

"For me to get a chance to actually meet him in person was one of my biggest dreams," Hamilton said. "It was one of the best things that's ever happened in my life, just to actually meet him in person and not just see him on TV. It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had in my whole life. I'm looking forward to talking to him more.

"It was a dream come true to actually meet him in person and be around him, and just to know that he was in the same vicinity as me."

Hamilton compared Mays to other childhood idols like Derek Jeter and Joe Morgan, and said he's been looking forward to meeting Mays since he signed a non-roster deal with the Giants earlier this month. When the clubhouse staff told him Mays would be coming to Scottsdale early in camp, he insisted that they come and get him as soon as Mays walked into the building.

The word apparently got back to Mays, who pointed at Hamilton as he approached and asked if he was the one who was so eager to meet. 

Longtime Giants know that there's a trick to your first spring meeting with Mays. He shakes every hand with a remarkably firm grip that's a reminder of just how powerful his hands were at the plate. Hamilton approached the 88-year-old with some caution. Mays, who stood up and compared forearm sizes with Michael Morse three springs ago, wasn't having it. 

"He was sitting there and I shook his hand and he was like, 'No, you've got to really get in there!'" Hamilton said, laughing. "I was so excited that he was finally here. I never knew his personality and I got a chance to be around him and see how funny he was."

Hamilton said he hopes to spend more time with Mays and have longer talks about life and baseball. With his first opportunity, he spent a few minutes telling Mays about his background and growing up in Mississippi. Then Hamilton dashed back to his locker and grabbed his phone so he could take a photo with Mays. 

[RELATED: Giants possess plenty of options for new 26th roster spot]

Hamilton has a solid shot at making the roster as a reserve outfielder, which would give hm plenty more opportunities to sit down with Mays, a regular at Oracle Park. If he sticks on the roster, he could find himself in the same position as Mauricio Dubon, who met Mays last summer. When Dubon heard Mays was in the building, he walked over to say hello.

Mays remembered meeting Dubon, who only played for the 2019 Giants for about a month. 

"Oh," Mays said to Dubon, "It's the kid that smiles."

How Giants, Farhan Zaidi might choose to use new 26th roster spot

How Giants, Farhan Zaidi might choose to use new 26th roster spot

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As Giants veterans checked into camp last week, a couple of them referred to the 25-man roster in interviews. Like writing a new year on your checks, it'll take a while for players to adjust to having a 26th man.

But on the second floor of the new facility at Scottsdale Stadium, there already have been plenty of conversations about it. 

The front office has an extra roster spot to work with, and few executives will dig that more than Farhan Zaidi, who spent 2019 in an endless roster shuffle as he added depth and talent to the 40-man roster. Zaidi, general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler have talked this spring of all the different ways they can go. 

As the Giants go through their spring rotation for the first time, it's far too early to project a full roster, especially in a camp where so many jobs are up for grabs. But we can take a look at how that roster will be impacted by the extra spot. The Giants will have 13 pitchers, that much we know. But what will they do with that 13th position player?

Pablo Sandoval

Just about seven months removed from Tommy John surgery, Sandoval already is taking part in nearly every drill, with some restrictions on his throwing. But he's a month ahead of schedule in that department, and he hasn't ruled out Opening Day. 

The staff is looking more at a May return, but they'll leave the door open for Sandoval. There's some thought that given his age (33) and the fact that he's on the back end of his career, it might be easier to push Sandoval than a younger player. He's not a 24-year-old looking for that life-changing contract; he's someone who above all simply wants to play baseball. 

Sandoval feels he's ready to pinch-hit now and he has looked sharp in early BP sessions. If, say, his throwing arm will be fully healed by mid-April, could the Giants put him on the Opening Day roster purely as a pinch-hitter and let him rehab his elbow before games? They've talked about it. 

Speed/defense

This is the Billy Hamilton section. Hamilton no longer is the 50-stolen base threat he was in Cincinnati, but he still is one of the fastest players in the game and an elite defensive center fielder. He hasn't hit enough in recent years to be a regular starter, but the Giants still could find creative ways for him to impact a game. 

Let's say Mike Yastrzemski starts in center and Hunter Pence in left and Pence leads off the sixth with a single. If you know he won't hit again until late in the game and your preference is to replace him defensively anyway, you can bring Hamilton in to pinch-run and play center, with Yastrzemski sliding to left. The Giants also have discussed making this type of move much earlier in a game to gain a slight edge. 

They don't have a true center fielder and there's not much speed on the locked-in part of the roster. The 26th spot makes it a lot easier to carry a Hamilton or Steven Duggar. 

A full infield

You start adding them up: Brandon Belt, Wilmer Flores, Mauricio Dubon, Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria ... that's five infielders before you even get to Sandoval, Donovan Solano (who had a very solid 2019) or Yolmer Sanchez (who won a Gold Glove last year and chose San Francisco over other offers, indicating he was told he has a really good shot at making the roster). 

The Giants could go with four in the outfield and use Dubon as their fifth, while keeping Solano and Sanchez on the Opening Day roster. This team may simply have to carry seven infielders at times, because that's where most of their core guys are. 

Third catcher

The Giants don't have the depth to do this but you can bet some other clubs will. Long term, though, this will be an appealing option. Zaidi has talked a lot over the past year about versatile catchers and it would be a nice boost if they could find a lefty to pair with Buster Posey and Joey Bart next year, ideally someone with options. That would allow Kapler to freely use both Posey and Bart in every game. 

Stephen Vogt, who played some left field, is in Arizona now, but someone like that would make sense in future years. The best bet would be developing a lefty-swinging catcher who could be optioned back and forth as a third guy. 

[RELATED: Watch Bart, Dubon homer in Giants' spring training opener]

Inventory

This isn't about any particular player, but adding a 26th player makes it a bit easier at the end of the spring to stash a veteran who is out of options. There are a lot of waiver claims during that final week before Opening Day rosters are set, but teams generally slow down once the season officially starts. No executive likes to lose a player who is out of options.

The Giants could stash someone on Opening Day, and then DFA him later and try to sneak him through waivers and onto the Triple-A roster. 

Giants sign speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton to minor league contract

Giants sign speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton to minor league contract

SAN FRANCISCO -- For years, Billy Hamilton has seemed a perfect fit for Oracle Park. Now he's finally a Giant. 

The club announced Friday that Hamilton and veteran right-hander Nick Vincent have signed minor league deals and both will be in camp as non-roster invites. Hamilton, one of the fastest players in MLB history, could provide elite defense for an outfield that now skews older with the pending addition of Hunter Pence. 

Hamilton, 29, was once a budding star with the Cincinnati Reds, a Gold Glove-caliber defender in center who stole more than 50 bases in four consecutive seasons. He is a nightmare for opposing pitchers and catchers when on base, but he always has had trouble actually getting there. Hamilton has a career .297 on-base percentage and has slugged just .326 in seven seasons. He spent last year with the Royals and Braves, batting .218 with a .289 on-base percentage and zero homers. 

Despite the troubles at the plate, Hamilton remains a speedster. He stole 22 bases in 28 attempts last year. Hamilton also was worth seven Defensive Runs Saved last season in center field. 

The Giants already have Steven Duggar on the roster, a similar defensive player, but Duggar hits from the left side and Hamilton from the right. Even with the walls coming in at Oracle Park, the Giants still will have significant ground to cover in center field and right-center, and Hamilton could be a late-innings fit for Gabe Kapler if he makes the roster. 

[RELATED: Giants, Pence agree to reunion for 2020 season]

The Giants had Vincent in camp as a non-roster invitee last year and he made the Opening Day roster. He was released after 18 appearances but the Giants knew he was dealing with some injuries at the time that limited his effectiveness. Vincent had a 1.93 ERA after catching on with Kapler's Phillies.