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Record-setting base stealer steps up with Reds

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Record-setting base stealer steps up with Reds

CINCINNATI (AP) Billy Hamilton is ready to show the major leagues that he can steal a base anywhere.

The Reds have invited the 22-year-old outfielder with freakish speed to spring training, giving him a chance to see firsthand what it's like to take off running with a major league pitcher and catcher trying to keep him from taking the next base.

Hamilton set a professional record with 155 steals last season, which he split between Single-A and Double-A. The Reds plan to start him at Triple-A Louisville this season, giving him time to develop his bunting and adapt to his new position in center field.

First, he'll get a chance to attend camp in Arizona as a non-roster invitee. He played in a few spring games last year, but will get a more regular test this time.

Can he steal off these guys?

``People say once you move up, it's going to be harder,'' Hamilton said Thursday, before boarding a bus as part of the team's annual winter caravan to nearby cities. ``But my confidence takes me a long way, not just in baseball. I feel if I get there and have the same confidence, I'll be good. I'm looking forward to it, to seeing what the outcome is.''

A lot of fans are aching to see what happens when he finally makes it to Cincinnati.

Reds fans were enticed by speed when lanky left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman started his career in the minors and hit 105 mph on radar guns with his fastball. He reached the big leagues in 2010 and hit 105 mph again.

The diminutive Hamilton seems to run as fast during the 90-foot dash from base to base - only an optical illusion, of course. However, he has already received national attention for circling the bases in a mere 13.8 seconds during an inside-the-park homer in the minors - the video quickly became a hit on YouTube.

At that speed, he compares favorably to some of the fastest players in the majors.

The Reds' challenge is getting him ready to run the bases in the big leagues. They've moved him from shortstop to center field - youngster Zack Cozart has shortstop locked up for the foreseeable future. They traded center fielder Drew Stubbs to the Indians in the offseason and received 30-year-old outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who will play center and bat leadoff this season, his last under contract.

The way is clear for Hamilton to take over the spot either late this season or in 2014, depending upon how quickly he develops at Triple-A. The Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League after last season to continue his progression.

``He's probably going to end up bunting a lot,'' general manager Walt Jocketty said on Thursday. ``With his speed, we saw him get a lot of hits that way in the fall league. Bunting and running are his two key tools.''

Hamilton's speed brought him a major career choice in high school at Taylorsville, Miss. He was offered a football scholarship to Mississippi State - he played receiver and returned punts - but decided to pursue baseball in part because his mother, Polly, thought it better suited his 6-foot-tall, 160-pound frame.

``It was a real tough decision,'' Hamilton said. ``I sat down with my family. My mom didn't want me to get hit so much. She liked me taking the baseball route. I'm glad I took that route. It's working out good for me.''

At first, he stole bases solely on his speed. Reds coaches, including former star center fielder Eric Davis, have been teaching him how to read pitchers' moves, which will come in handy as he moves up to higher skill levels.

``His main thing was: Don't be afraid,'' Hamilton said. ``Always have that feel that you can't be thrown out. Always be aggressive.''

Teams started pitching out when he reached base last season, but it didn't matter very much.

``They threw over (to first base) a lot,'' Hamilton said. ``They pitched out a lot. It makes me mad, kind of, when I'm running and they pitch out. But it's their job. It's respect.''

He got a lot of respect last year when he topped Vince Coleman's professional record of 145 steals in the minors during the 1983 season. Hamilton would switch his white batting gloves for gray sliding gloves as soon as he reached base, getting ready to take off.

Unlike Willie Mays Hayes, who would tack his gloves to the wall after each successful swipe in the movie ``Major League,'' Hamilton kept no mementos from his record-setting season, which will be daunting to top.

``It's going to be tough to do,'' Hamilton said. ``Just get out there and play my game and see where everything falls.''

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

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Capitals go to the WHL again, select defenseman Alex Alexeyev with first-round pick

The last time the Washington Capitals had a first-round draft pick, they selected a WHL defenseman. They did not go off script on Friday.

With the last pick of the first round, selecting for the first time as defending Stanley Cup champions, the Capitals selected Alexander Alexeyev, a left-shooting, two-way defenseman from St. Petersburg.

Alexeyev, 18, certainly boasts NHL size at 6' 4", 196 pounds. He currently plays for Red Deer in the WHL, a junior league that has become a major pipeline for the Capitals. In his second season with Red Deer, he tallied 37 points in 45 games.

The NHL Central Scouting's rankings list Alexeyev as the 22nd best North American skater of the draft. TSN projects him to be a top-four, two-way defenseman.

Analyst Craig Button described Alexeyev as a "Smart, effective defenceman who moves the puck, plays with a calm and doesn't make things complicated for himself."

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