June 05, 2008

Fourth in a series of weekly scouting reports provided to SI.com by the network of former scouts, players, coaches and executives at the Baseline Group.

• Outfielder• Texas Rangers• DOB: 5/21/1981• Height/Weight: 6-4/235• Bats/Throws: Left/Left• Body Type: Strong, athletic build

Josh Hamilton is coming into his own. He is at the upper end of the "GOOD" category and projects to be in the PREMIUM/ELITE category with a couple more years of consistent excellence. He is one of the game's most physically talented players, and his skills are rapidly catching up to his pure ability after missing so many games due to a dependency problem.

Hamilton's American League rankings (thru 6/3):

• 1st in Home Runs (17)• 1st in RBIs (67)• 2nd in Batting Average (.329)• 1st in Slugging Percentage (.630)• 3rd in Runs (43)• 1st in Total Bases (153)• 3rd in Triples (3)• 2nd in OPS+

With runners in scoring position, Hamilton is aggressive on the first pitch and will chase pitches that he has trouble driving, such as a good sinker moving down and away or a hard slider out of the zone. He can have trouble catching up to an above average fastball. With two strikes against, he shortens his swing to put the ball in play.

He has plus speed (4.05) but his efforts to first base on groundballs can be inconsistent. His isn't yet confident enough on the bases to be a base stealing threat, but this should come with time; he has just 12 steal attempts (minors and majors) since 2002.

Hamilton is more comfortable when facing right-handed pitchers (1.041 OPS versus .740 against lefties) and will use the entire field against them. Against lefties he can struggle to stay back and keep his front side quiet on pitches to the outer half. Hamilton is at his best when he looks to hit the ball to the middle and opposite fields and reacts to pitches in.

• Plus Arm• Plus Speed• Plus, Plus Raw Power• Plus Game Power• Physically strong with an XL frame• Mentally strong• Gamer

• Can get streaky at the plate• Adjustments to opposing pitchers can be too far apart. This is a function of not having enough professional at bats as most 27-year-olds would normally have at this time.• Can struggle against many lefties. This again goes back to inexperience. As Hamilton has just 243 career at bats in the American League, he doesn't have a history against a lot of pitchers. The more he sees the pitchers, the better he will be, assuming he is able to make adjustments.

Hamilton is starting in center field and shows above average ability. He reads the ball off the bat very well and takes good routes. His plus speed (4.05) allows him to have above average range. He has a strong and accurate arm, and he is aggressive coming in on groundballs to make throws. Hamilton doesn't shy away from any wall. His communication with the other outfielders is average and needs to improve for his team to play better defensively. It should with time and experience.

A hard throwing left-hander with a deceptive motion that Hamilton hasn't seen before.

To become a better player, Hamilton needs to do the following:

• Get more experience. Most of his current shortcomings (and there aren't many) are the direct result of being 27 and having just 1,641 professional at-bats since he graduated high school in 1999. His ability to adjust to hitters, his comfort level on the bases and communication in the outfield should be ironed out with more game experience.

• Improve his hitting against lefties. As the below graph shows, Hamilton has already made a vast improvement in this department from his rookie year. With more experience and with the help of Rudy Jaramillo -- one of the game's best hitting coaches, Hamilton should continue to progress.

• Hamilton was selected by the Chicago Cubs from the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 2006 Rule V draft, and then immediately traded to the Reds for cash. Hamilton's .329/.375/.630 could have been in center field for the first-place Cubs this year instead of Reed Johnson's .266/.346/.367.

• Hamilton was traded from the Reds to the Rangers this past offseason for Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. The 23-year-old Herrera is excelling in relief in the minors, posting a 1.27 ERA in 21 1/3 innings since his call-up to AAA Louisville. The 24-year-old Volquez is 8-2 for the Reds, and he's leading the majors in strikeouts (95) and ERA (1.32). A trade that, as of now, has worked for both teams.

• Because Hamilton had a late start to his professional career, the Rangers have a unique financial opportunity: they have a potential star who will be under their control during his prime -- without having to give him a long-term contract.

Max ScherzerGreg MadduxLance Berkman

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