Camp a classroom for prospect
Votto slotted for Reds farm team
By Marc Lancaster / Post staff reporter

SARASOTA, Fla. - Joey Votto is fully aware of his position in the hierarchy at Reds camp.

He has no chance to make the team out of spring training, nor should he. At age 22, the first baseman has never played above the Class A level. But that's not really the point for Votto as he navigates his first big-league camp.

He wants to get a feel for the major league experience, to the extent that he can during spring training. He got his first taste last year, when he was summoned from minor league camp as a spare body for a few Grapefruit League games, but being in the Reds' clubhouse every day has made more of an impact.

"It's a lot different," Votto said. "Last year they called me up and I really didn't have very many expectations. Here, I really feel a lot more part of the team."

It's still easy to miss Votto in the clubhouse. He's over in the corner generally reserved for those with high numbers on their backs, and he's keeping a low profile. The old adage about rookies being seen and not heard applies nicely to him. He's too busy observing to make much noise himself.

"I just listen," Votto said. "I'll be standing there in the first base area and (Adam Dunn) and Scott Hatteberg and Jacob Cruz will all be standing around, talking about stuff. Just general things, baseball or life of whatever. Listening to them, you just learn by osmosis, I guess. I watch the way the guys do their thing. I watch how Tony Womack works. All those things are exactly what I need, I think."

Votto probably will see a decent amount of action in the first week of spring training games, playing out the latter innings after the regulars have departed. He'll get a chance to see some pitching that should far exceed the level he encountered in high-Class A Sarasota last year.

As the former second-round draft pick continued a methodical climb through the farm system, he led Sarasota in hits (119), doubles (23), home runs (17) and RBIs (83) while hitting .256 over 124 games. Even when the minor league season ended Labor Day weekend, Votto just kept on playing.

He spent part of September playing for his native Canada in the baseball World Cup in the Netherlands, then participated in the Arizona Fall League. In addition, he played for Canada in an Olympic qualifying tournament during the fall.

Because of the international experience Votto already has on his resume, he had a chance to be called up to the Canadian team for the World Baseball Classic. The Toronto native's name was on the provisional roster released last month, even though no one bothered to tell him about it.

"That's what I heard," he said. "I haven't gotten a single call from them."

Votto didn't seem the least bit concerned about missing out on the big event. In fact, sticking around for his first stay in big-league camp probably will help his development more than playing for Canada in the coming weeks.

Baseball America tabbed him as the No. 9 prospects in the Reds' system entering 2006, down five spots from a year before but still among the elite. Votto probably is on track to begin this year at Class AA Chattanooga. If he applies the lessons he figures to learn from all that listening he'll be doing this spring, a legitimate shot at making the big-league roster might loom this time next year.

"It pushes me, for sure," Votto said. "It's a lot more motivating."