Billy Hamilton is honing his bunting weapon

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Billy Hamilton hit .368 in 22 plate appearances in September last season, but some in the know say that Hamilton will struggle to hit in the Majors. In his first season against Triple-A competition last season, Hamilton hit .256 with a .308 on-base percentage and a .343 slugging percentage.

Hamilton’s signature has always been his ability to swipe bases. In the Minors, Hamilton stole 395 bases in 479 opportunities (82.5%). But if he’s not hitting enough to get on base, he won’t be stealing all that much. That’s why Hamilton is working on improving his bunting. Via Mark Sheldon for MLB.com:

On Wednesday vs. Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, Hamilton push-bunted a ball past the first-base side of the mound. Ryu had no time to cover the bag after the first baseman fielded it, and in an act of futility, the second baseman scrambled for the bag. Hamilton was easily safe.

“If I do my job, I feel like I can get safe every time,” Hamilton said. “It’s just the point of getting it down and putting it in place. I have to realize I have to use my speed and don’t have to rush out of there. The main thing is getting the bunt down first, a perfect bunt.”

Hamilton is taking over for the Reds in center field and will bat in the lead-off spot. If he can get on base at a .310 clip and swipe second and even third with frequency, he will create plenty of RBI opportunities for those behind him in the lineup — including Joey Votto.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.