LAKELAND, Fla.—The curious career of Tigers righthander Brandon Hamilton has taken an unexpected turn.
Hamilton, a supplemental first-round pick in 2007, did not report to spring training.
Instead Hamilton has chosen to take a mission trip, and Tigers officials hope he will return to extended spring training once that trip is completed.
It's just the latest, and strangest, twist in a career that hasn't gone exactly as planned for Hamilton, who signed for $540,000 after being drafted out of Millbrook (Ala.) High.
Hamilton, 21, began his career with short-season Oneonta in 2007 and flashed a fastball that touched the mid-90s and sat comfortably in the low-90s. He also displayed a power curve that drew favorable comparisons to the breaking ball of the Tigers' first-round pick that year, Rick Porcello.
But Hamilton, who ranked as the Tigers' 10th-best prospect entering 2008, struggled that year. After beginning the year in extended spring, Hamilton went 0-5, 5.01 in eight appearances with low Class A West Michigan, walking 28 in 32 innings.
A demotion to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League allowed him to settle down, and Hamilton went 5-1, 1.86 and 42 strikeouts in 39 innings there.
But things got worse, not better, with West Michigan last season. Hamilton began the season in the Whitecaps' rotation and struggled, posting a 6.39 ERA in 20 starts, walking 50 in 87 innings.
Things continued to spiral when he moved to the bullpen in August. In 10 relief appearances Hamilton had a 12.34 ERA, issuing 11 walks in 12 innings. Suddenly, things like Hamilton's delivery, which has a lot of moving parts, have become an issue, as has his wildness in his two Midwest League stints.
The Tigers are expected to be patient with Hamilton. While he has struggled with fastball command, he still controls his curve well and has gained confidence in a changeup.
• The signing of Johnny Damon may give Triple-A Toledo a number of outfield prospects to start the season. Damon's addition may push prospects such as Ryan Strieby, Casper Wells, and Wilkin Ramirez to the Mud Hens.
• The Tigers released third baseman Michael Hollimon, who hit .212/.320/.385 in 29 Double-A games last year.