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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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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Michael Pierce responds to last week's dismissal from practice

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Baltimore Ravens Roundup: Michael Pierce responds to last week's dismissal from practice

Kick off your Monday with the latest Baltimore Ravens news.

1. Last week, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was dismissed from practice after showing up in "less than ideal shape" according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec. Pierce joined WSNP-FM 105.5 Friday where he responded to being dismissed from practice. “Throughout the offseason, I tend to lift more than run,” Pierce said. “Being a nose guard, I want to be strong or what not. I, honestly, just mismanaged my running a little bit.”

2. On the other hand, tight end Mark Andrews looks "bigger, faster and stronger" Zrebiec said. Andrews had a standout year last season as a rookie with three touchdowns and 34 catches for 552 yards. Zrebiec said Andrews has not slowed down and will be an even bigger asset to the Ravens offense this season.


Looking Ahead:

July 15: 4 p.m. deadline to get a long-term deal done with designated franchise tag players.

The 2019 NFL schedule is set! See the Baltimore Ravens defend the AFC North at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Get your tickets now at www.BaltimoreRavens.com/tickets.

Credit: Baltimore Ravens and Rotoworld for news points.

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Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Free Agency Bracket: Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s matchup:

Region: Fourth line forwards

Noel Acciari vs. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

2018-19 stats

Noel Acciari (27 years old): 72 games played with the Boston Bruins, 6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points, 12:59 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the Boston Bruins, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, 13:10 TOI

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (34 years old): 76 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 6 goals, 9 assists, 15 points, 12:26 TOI

Playoffs: 6 games played with the Vegas Golden Knights, 0 goals, 0 assists, 11:44 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

Noel Acciari: 2 years, $1,180,934 cap hit

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare: 2 years, $1,450,996 cap hit

The case for Noel Acciari

Plays a lot bigger than his 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame. A perfect fit at right wing on the fourth line for Washington. The native New Englander, who played at Providence, is a home-grown Bruin and might not want to leave home, but Boston also might not have the cap space to double the salary of an obvious fourth-line player. 

Acciari is renowned for his character and toughness. He was a college captain for Providence and helped the Friars win an NCAA title in 2015. There’s never been a shot he’s unwilling to block. Acciari sustained a broken sternum in the second round against Columbus and a blocked shot with his right foot in Game 7 of the Cup Final left him in a walking boot. 

Acciari’s offensive upside is limited, but he did have 10 goals in 2017-18. He was a key player for the Bruins in the past two Stanley Cup playoffs and chipped in two goals in this year’s playoff run that came within a game of a championship. Acciari would help on Washington’s penalty kill, too. In 111:52 he was only on the ice for 11 power-play goals against. Only two Boston forwards were on the ice more short-handed.   

The case for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

A late bloomer who grew into a bottom-six role for the Philadelphia Flyers and, the past two seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights. Bellemare held his own as an above-water possession player on a team that dominated in that area. But even when taking into account his usage and that he ranked lower than most of his teammates in that area, he was still about break even. 

No other forward logged as much time on the penalty kill for Vegas (147:54) and it wasn’t close. The Knights gave up just 18 power-play goals with Bellemare on the ice and scored three short-handed goals. He had two shortys in his time with the Flyers.

Bellemare won’t give you much offensively. He’s never reached double digits in goals or 20 points in a season. He’ll also turn 35 late next season. But he’s played in the Stanley Cup playoffs three of his four NHL seasons (31 games) and the Capitals remember him from the Cup Final in 2018. Bellemare had two assists in that series. He’s difficult to play against, would provide a veteran presence missing on the fourth line and was primarily a center for the Knights so he has positional versatility. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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