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Votto moves up with his own hitting style
By Stephen Martini
April 26, 2006
See also: Previous Double-A Report .
Joey Votto is getting things done in Double-A Chattanooga by using his new approach--doing nothing.
The 22-year-old power-hitting first baseman had a .379 batting average through the first eight games of Southern League play because, as he puts it, “I’m disciplining myself to wait for the good pitches.”
“I’m focusing on my strike zone--I’m taking what the pitchers give me,” Votto said. “Last season, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I tried to grab the game by the horns and control it. Now I’m trying to take what’s given to me. I’m trying to humble myself and swallow my pride. Some players, like (Gary) Sheffield, can take a ball at eye level and still hit it. I can’t do that.”
So far, his discipline is paying off. Through his first eight games as a Lookout, Votto had made nearly 30 trips to the plate and socked three home runs. Just as importantly, he was getting on base consistently, carrying a .379 OBP through the first two weeks of play.
By continually getting on base and scoring runs, Votto is integral in keeping the Lookouts in competition for first place in the Southern League’s North Division, jockeying for position with the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx.
“We’re winning,” Votto said. “You don’t understand the difference between playing games that you know don’t matter--you’re just going through the motions--and playing games that could put you back into first place. Right now, every game matters--every play matters. I really like playing with these guys.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound slugger is spending a lot of time watching his teammates play and learning from those who have been to the big leagues before, like Anderson Machado (Reds, Phillies, Rockies), Miguel Perez (Reds), and Eric Crozier (Toronto).
“I’m spending my time around guys with big league time,” he said. “I’m going to keep my mouth shut and learn.”
A Style Of His Own
Regardless of how much time he’s spending in the classroom, Votto isn’t imitating his teammates, according to Lookouts’ hitting coach, Jamie Dismuke. Votto’s consistent, base-hit swing is all his own.
“Everyone’s hitting style is different--Joey has his own,” Dismuke said. “There’s not a lot of movement in his body and he keeps his head still, which is how he’s hitting all these pitches. He is solid at the plate. He’s been working on hitting the ball the other way through spring training and waiting to get the pitch he wants: middle-in. It’s a credit to him and his work ethic.
“He’s a disciplined hitter, and he’s very exciting to watch. He’s going to be in the heart of our order.”
Not only is he strong and physically intimidating at the plate, but Votto continues to show surprising speed for an ex-catcher when running the bases. During an early game against Carolina, Votto stole second on a wild pitch in extra innings, then scored the winning run from second base on an error.
Votto concedes it might be too early to talk about what successes he will find in his first trip to Double-A. He came to Chattanooga for his first stint above the Class A level. He has been a solid hitter to this point in his career, batting .278/.379/.452, but struggled in the high Class A Florida State League in 2005, batting .256 with 17 home runs after hitting .301 with 19 homers and 33 doubles the previous season.
“I’ve only played a few games so far, so I’m still trying to get a feel for the pitchers,” Votto said. “And the pitchers in this league are trying to get a feel for what they want to do to me.
“Last year was a down year for me. I hired a trainer in the offseason. I’m a lot more focused and determined to make something happen this season. I’m self-motivated. I’m a self-motivated person. I took all the negative things people were saying and used it as motivation to hit 10 minutes longer, lift 10 minutes longer, and to run more.”
That’s not a method Votto invented.
Rather, he said watching the veterans of the game during his time with the Reds in big league camp taught him a thing or two about what he needed to do to find success on the diamond.
“The thing that really impressed me in big league camp was how hungry some of the older guys are,” he said. “I think, 15 years from now, if I could be as hungry as them, I’d be 37 and playing hard.”
Personally, Votto looks to big league infielder Tony Womack, new to the Reds this season, as an example and inspiration.
“I am so impressed by him and his hunger,” he said. “He’s always busting his back to be better. He’s always in the cage working on his swing, perfecting his bunt, always perfecting everything about his game. (Veterans) don’t take days off--162 days a year, they’re working. Even on the days they don’t feel like playing, they do. I’m not at that point yet, but I want to be and I’m working on it.”
This season is a season of expectations for Votto, as he still sits among the Reds’ top five hitting prospects. The organization has a new general manager in Wayne Krivsky, one who already has shown he is not afraid to shake up the big league club. Votto has a chance to put 2005 behind him and make a strong impression on the new regime.
Dismuke doesn’t doubt Votto’s ability to deliver on the club’s high hopes and certainly doesn’t question his desire to get better.
“He’s hitting fairly well in the (Southern) League,” Dismuke said. “I expect a lot of him. He expects a lot of himself. He’s a tough out right now and he won’t cheat himself at the plate.”
Stephen Martini is the author of The Chattanooga Lookouts & 100 Seasons of Scenic City Baseball. He is based in Tennessee.