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Lockport’s Hamilton takes fast track to pro baseball

Nick Hamilton knows he’s a project, but he wasted little time flaunting his potential and showing others why the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 11th round of last month’s Major League Baseball Draft.

In his first professional at-bat, the Lockport product collected his first hit. Three pitches later, he stole second base. After two more pitches, he stood at third with another theft. He then scored his first professional run on a fielder’s choice grounder to second.

Want to know why Hamilton, a little-known prospect even among some Western New York high school coaches, became the fourth area scholastic player drafted in the past three years? That sequence in which he manufactured a run answers that question.

Hamilton, who inked a seven-year deal with the Bosox and is currently playing rookie ball with Fort Myers of the Gulf Coast League, is a scary-fast outfielder. The right-handed swinging speedster has been clocked running to first in 3.7 seconds. The average time for most players is around 4.3 seconds.

Hamilton’s fast start as a professional has slowed since that at-bat (1 for 16 since with 13 strikeouts and two walks), but that doesn’t change the fact that he now gets paid to play a kid’s game.

“It’s pretty crazy,” said Hamilton. “I’ll talk to my buddies here, the new friends I’ve made – the other rookies, and they can’t believe it either. It’s pretty surreal knowing you’re just a step closer to being in the big show. It’s pretty cool. There’s nothing like it. I’m pretty humble for it.”

Hamilton joins Orchard Park’s Dave Hollins, Clarence’s Mark Armstrong and Amherst’s Jonah Heim as recent area prospects drafted by big-league teams since 2013.

Unlike those prospects though, there was very little warning that Hamilton was on anyone’s draft board.

That was until June 10, when Hamilton was the first and only Western New York high school player selected. He caught scouts’ eyes – well, his speed did – while playing competitive travel baseball with the Great Lakes Canadians in Ontario.

“He was a football and track star and ended up at a camp up in Canada where they taught him and told his parents he’d probably be a good prospect for baseball,” Lockport baseball coach Dan Petock said. “That’s why no one’s heard of him. He’s only been playing for a couple of years” true competitive baseball.

Boston’s scouting report in his online bio reads: “Excellent athlete with plus-plus speed. Didn’t start playing baseball until 2013. Frame still has room to add muscle. Natural swing is from the right side but has worked on switch-hitting.”

Hamilton was one of two GLC players drafted, the other being fourth-round pick Miles Gordon by Cincinnati.

“It was unexpected,” Hamilton said. “Being put in this position, it was very surreal.”

“I think that we’re probably doing a better job preparing kids,” Hamburg High School coach Steve Chaffee said of the number of locals drafted the past few years. “At indoor facilities kids are getting more opportunities. There are more and more travel teams showcasing these kids.”

Hamilton is considered a project for a reason. He played Little League beginning at age 4 but did not start facing the cream of the crop in his age group until his junior season – a year after he had helped Lockport’s 4x100 relay set a Section VI record and earn a trip to the state track championships.

The 17-year-old (he turns 18 in December) still is a work in progress in the batter’s box even though he hit .440 with four home runs and 12 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot in 13 games for Lockport. The first team All-State and All-Western New York pick gets plenty of work in the batting cage these days.

Fort Myers plays all its games at noon, Monday through Saturday. His work day begins with a 5:30 a.m. wake up. He boards a bus 45 minutes later to go to the team facility where early batting practice starts around 7. At 8:30 a.m., it’s fielding and soft toss. Another round of batting practice, this time against live pitching follows.

Position players lift weights and do workouts specifically designed to attack their weaknesses for an hour after every game. Players return to their hotel rooms by 6 p.m.

Days are long, but Hamilton sees the big picture.

“It’s a straight grind but they only want us to get better,” Hamilton said. “That’s exactly what they’re doing. … Great players come out of this organization.”