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Royals believe Billy Hamilton is already elite, but has even more to offer

Lynn Worthy, The Kansas City Star on

Published in Baseball

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When on the run, Royals slender and somewhat gangly outfielder Billy Hamilton becomes a near-perfect combination of explosion, flexibility and coordination.

The 6-foot, 160-pound Mississippi native glides around the outfield grass and the basepaths, seemingly floating on top of them.

Regarded as the fastest man in baseball, Hamilton turns his speed into artistry not unlike a bird in flight. Yet, throughout his career he's also played the part of a caged bird.

Only in his case, he'd been held captive by the batter's box and the expectations that weighed on him every time he grabbed a bat. He enters his first season on the Royals with a resolve to break out as a hitter.

"I keep coming here every single day having the confidence," Hamilton said seated at his locker in the clubhouse of the Royals' spring training facility in Arizona. "That's one thing I haven't had my whole career hitting-wise is confidence. I'm learning to have that too."

The Royals know exactly what they acquired when they signed Hamilton, 28, this offseason. The speed, the defense, the inconsistency at the plate -- all of it was understood before Hamilton joined the club. More than understood, it was accepted.

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If Hamilton only provides tremendous defense and nearly unparalleled speed, he'll be worth it, the Royals say. But there's also a certitude inside the walls of the Royals facility that there's more baseball artistry to extract from Hamilton.

"I'm not putting any limitations on him, but we got him for a specific reason and so everything else he does along the way is gravy for us," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "There's no unrealistic expectations on him, but we're not putting any limitations on him. We believe that he'll play much better offensively as the year goes out, as the year unfolds, as the year continues to develop.

"I think he'll just do better because of mindset, frame of mind, and we really believe in him."

Hamilton, a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds who Mississippi State recruited to play football out of high school, built a reputation that preceded him onto the national stage. His 155 minor league stolen bases in 2012 established a professional baseball record.

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