Can Hamilton still play at a high level? Can the outfielder really break camp on the 25-man roster?
Those answers will start to formulate when the Reds' Grapefruit League schedule starts on Thursday against the Pirates. Hamilton can't wait to see how it goes.
"I'm really excited about games starting up and getting back into game situations," Hamilton said on Monday. "I got a brief glimpse of it last season. It's good to be back, and I know I'll get a lot more games."
The first overall draft pick by the Devil Rays in 1999 as the ultimate five-tool player, Hamilton's story has been well-chronicled. Injuries and suspensions for drug use derailed his once promising career from 2003-2006. The only 15 games he played in that four-year span came at the Class A level last summer.
An early arrival to camp, Hamilton wowed onlookers with some long drives over the fences. The only big-league pitchers the 25-year-old has faced were his own teammates during live BP sessions this spring. Hamilton looked and felt comfortable in the batter's box there, too.
"I actually feel better during the live pitching than the coach's batting practice," Hamilton said. "It's weird. I think I'm more relaxed and just trying to hit line drives in live BP. I'm still trying to tell myself in coach's batting practice to work on things, but it's kind of hard to when the wind is blowing out. You want to see how far you can hit it. That's where inexperience comes in on my part. I just need to watch the veteran guys, see what they're doing and do it."
It won't be unexpected if any rust remaining in Hamilton's swing shows once he encounters the opposition. Reds manager Jerry Narron plans to battle that by giving Hamilton plenty of at-bats.
"I'm looking forward to seeing him play," Narron said. "He's going to play a lot. I'm going to try and speed this thing up as quickly as we can for him and see if he's up for that challenge."
Narron plans to use Hamilton a lot in center field this spring. At one point with Tampa Bay, he reportedly rated better at the position than stars Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford. Hamilton can also play both corner spots.
"He was a very good center fielder. He's a very good athlete," Narron said. "His throwing arm is outstanding."
As a Rule 5 Draft pick of the Cubs who was dealt to the Reds in December, Hamilton must remain on the 25-man roster all season or be exposed to waivers. If he clears, he must be offered back to Tampa Bay for $25,000.
That puts the Reds in an intriguing situation. Narron plans on carrying five outfielders and at the moment, already has four of those spots locked up for Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Ryan Freel and Jeff Conine. Hamilton is vying against Chris Denorfia, Norris Hopper and Bubba Crosby for consideration at the fifth spot. Narron also didn't rule out carrying a sixth outfielder if Freel was moved to the infield.
Because of his layoff and his past, Hamilton can be considered a long shot to break camp with the Reds. A lot will depend on if the Reds carry 11 or 12 pitchers, two or three catchers and injuries. Not wanting to risk losing someone with Hamilton's ability, Cincinnati will likely give him every opportunity to make the team.
There isn't exactly a long list of players that have returned to baseball from several years away from the game. Those who did were already accomplished players that served in the military at war time. Hamilton, who has never played above Double-A, tries not to burden himself over his long odds.
"If I think about time and that I haven't done this in so long, more than likely I won't be able to do it," he said. "If you talk yourself into something long enough, you believe it and you'll probably do it. I have to put the past behind me and put the time issue behind me. I'll just look at each day and each at-bat as a new at-bat."
Plethora of pitchers: A tentative list of pitchers to be used in Wednesday's 12 p.m. ET intrasquad was revealed by Narron. Bronson Arroyo, Calvin Medlock, Michael Gosling, Kerry Ligtenberg, Phil Dumatrait, Homer Bailey, Brad Salmon and Jon Coutlangus are among those expected to see action.
"That is definitely subject to change," Narron said.
Seen and heard: Reds players were ushered into the press room for photographs and body image shots taken for the 2008 edition of Sony's Major League Baseball video game on Monday. ... New Reds broadcasters Thom Brennaman and Jeff Brantley are scheduled to arrive in Sarasota on Tuesday. ... Reliever Gary Majewski celebrated his 27th birthday on Monday.