He steps on the mound hurriedly. Gripping the ball and clenching his jaw, giving off a certain war-face, Brandon Hamilton releases a mean pitch. The umpire signals, "ball!" and the batter struts off to first base. Does Hamilton kick the dirt in frustration? No. Does he even put his head down in disappointment? Nope. The 20-year-old just keeps that angry-like stare, awaiting the throw back from his catcher.
The average fan wouldn't guess it, but this right-handed pitcher was once a first round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 2007 (60th pick in the supplemental draft). He was even a top ten prospect in Detroit's farm system in 2008. Unfortunately, the eyes have turned away from Hamilton and set on hot pitching prospects like Rick Porcello, Casey Crosby and Jon Kibler.
If you ask Hamilton though, he gets it. Maybe he's just 20 years old, but two years have matured the Alabama native.
"I know the ability is there, Hamilton said. "I think I'm finally hitting my stride, though I'm not there yet."
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds Hamilton is a manager's dream and a hitter's nightmare… If he's on his game of course. He has had trouble finding his fastball in the past two seasons, but it's safe to say now that he has perfected the classic pitch.
"He's young, and it takes young pitchers time to change mechanics, manager Joe DePastino said. "He's feeling confident and locating his fastball."
Last season was anything but perfect for a former first-rounder. He was 0-5 and had a 5.01 ERA with West Michigan. When he was demoted during the midseason to the GCL Tigers, Hamilton calmed down and developed very well, showing what he can do. He ended the year with GCL, going 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA in nine starts. When the beginning of the 2009 campaign arrived, the Tigers decided to move him back up to West Michigan to finish what he started.
"I lost a little confidence last year coming up here," Hamilton said back in April. "But I feel like I have my confidence back. I think I have everything adjusted."
Since the beginning of this season, his teammates have realized just how hard he works, and even though he keeps a calm, cool demeanor, he's doing everything he can.
"The game is about failure, but he gives all he can when he pitches, Whitecap outfielder Billy Nowlin remarked. "That's all you can ask for anyone."
Maybe when it comes to big money contracts-- such as what Perry and Porcello received-- an average player fades and has to try that much harder to acquire a name. Well, if you ask most West Michigan fans, Brandon Hamilton is a real life "Cool-Hand Luke." He has never tipped over a water cooler or blamed other people. He's steady, and just wants to do better.
"He has such a great arm," DePastino said. "He's more down in the zone this year, and he's throwing his curveball for strikes.
This season Hamilton is 4-4 with a 6.75 ERA in the 92 innings he has pitched. He has one loss in the reliever's role, and seems to be dominant when there aren't any runners on (1.29 ERA). In his last three starts Hamilton has given up nine hits and only struck out two. Though these numbers don't show brilliance on the hill, a person would have to watch this kid to know just how much he has developed since last season. Instead of his slumping posture, he's more upright when he delivers. His mix of pitches are far more advanced than last season, where he tried to get batters guessing on his curve, when they knew it was coming. He's all-around matured.
So at the end of the day, Hamilton walks off that mound and into the dugout—not smiling—and looks to his teammates. A hint of smirk appears as they pat his back every time. Good or bad, he did his best. So maybe it's not all about the big money, or where you're ranked. Maybe it's as simple as being a piece to the puzzle. Or maybe it really is about the "W" instead of the "K."
"I'm just going to do the work that I need to do to get ready for my next start." The former first-rounder remarked in passing. "Who cares about the first round?"