Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
The spring training non-roster invitee could work his way into the organization with a strong showing
The Red Sox 40-man roster will be in spring training in Fort Myers, Florida in just a matter of weeks. Along with that group will also be some select minor-league players, as well as the ultimate representation of the optimism of spring: the non-roster invitees. One of those NRIs is former Cardinal first baseman and outfielder, Mark Hamilton. Like with the other non-roster invitees, there's no guarantee he'll stick with the organization past March. But, players like this will often stick on in a minor-league capacity, especially if they have something to prove, like Hamilton does.
Hamilton spent parts of 2010 and 2011 in the majors, but his entire 2012 campaign consisted of 359 plate appearances for the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. Hamilton hit just .231/.340/.419 during the year, possibly hampered by an undisclosed injury suffered during the season. As he had been passed on the depth chart and moved to the outfield from his typical position of the first base, it wasn't a total surprise that the Cardinals cut him loose after the 2012 season, before he became a 28-year-old at Triple-A for the fifth season.
Let's rewind a bit, though. Hamilton was picked in the supplemental portion of the second round in 2006's amateur entry draft, the last selection of that round. It's not exactly a position in the draft where it's expected major-league players will come from, but there have been some notable ones in the draft's history, such as Chase Utley, Marquis Grissom, Giancarlo Stanton, and, in the process of making himself notable, Nick Hundley. Hamilton has obviously missed the boat on being one of the random selections capable of a career like that, but there's still time for him to be listed among the positive value contributors at that draft position.
Baseball America considered him a prospect up through 2010, ranking him 23rd in the Cardinals system heading into 2011:
As Memphis made a second straight run to the Pacific Coast League championship series, Hamilton provided the power. A brawny, lefthanded hitter, he slugged 18 homers in 258 at-bats with the Redbirds -- his 18th clinched the division for the Redbirds -- with two more in the playoffs. After a decorated college career that included All- America and Conference USA player of the year honors in 2006, Hamilton took a few years to adjust to pro ball but finally established himself as one of the best power-hitting prospects in the system. He missed parts of the 2010 season with two stays on the disabled list (hand, groin) and still set a career high for homers. His value is in his bat. Hamilton has a quick-enough swing and the leverage to damage more than just mistakes, and he knows how to work the count in his favor. He slimmed down for 2010, improving his conditioning and stamina. An experiment in the outfield proved difficult, but with experience he could be serviceable there. He's also below average at first, and the Cardinals don't expect to have an opening there for awhile anyway. Because he is so limited defensively, Hamilton isn't a natural fit for the bench and is probably best suited as a DH. He'll return to Triple-A to open the season, trying to expand his resume or swing his way through the roadblocks or into a trade.
In a lot of ways, Hamilton profiles as another Mauro Gomez for the Red Sox, in that he's a born-DH with some power potential, except Hamilton is left-handed and, in a pinch, could slot in as a left fielder. What we don't know, however, is if the Sox like Hamilton's potential as much as they do those of Gomez, who they believe can be an actual major-league hitter.
There are some others concerns, notably his struggles in 2012, but also the fact he's benefited from playing in the PCL during his entire Triple-A career. Should he stick with the Red Sox after spring training, Hamilton will move to the International League with Pawtucket, where his bat will be tested by the tougher environment. There are encouraging items, too, though, such as Hamilton's career .385 on-base percentage at Triple-A, and .203 Isolated Power at the level -- if he can approximate those levels while in the International League, then, even at 28, it might be worth seeing if he can hit in the majors if there's a need and the scouting reports match the numbers.
Besides ability, there's a problem with roster crunch for Hamilton, in terms of sticking with the Red Sox organization after the spring. The aforementioned Gomez is likely going to play every day at first, and Pawtucket's outfield, even after the loss of Ryan Kalish to shoulder surgery, is bound to be packed thanks to Juan Carlos Linares, Alex Hassan, Bryce Brentz,and Jeremy Hazelbaker, assuming Ryan Sweeney makes the Red Sox out of spring training. That leaves the designated hitter spot open for Hamilton, of course, so the Red Sox should still be able to get a look at his bat. It's a bit limiting to be a Triple-A DH, though, and it doesn't speak much to his ability to be in the depth pool for first or left.
Of course, if the Red Sox are in a spot where they need to put Mark Hamilton on the 40-man and use him at one of those two positions in 2013, then his defense is low on the list of present-day concerns at that point.