Votto isn't on thin ice now
Reds prospect is good-hit, no-skate
By C.L. Brown
SARASOTA, Fla. -- While his friends practiced slap shots and dreamed about hat tricks, Toronto native Joey Votto focused on base hits. He had learned all he needed to know about his future in hockey after the first date he took ice skating.
"I didn't skate too well; I looked like an idiot," he said. "I was falling all over the place. That pretty much shell-shocked me."
Hockey's loss was a big gain for the Cincinnati Reds, who chose the 6-foot-3 infielder in the second round of the 2002 draft for first-year players.
Votto has developed into one of the Reds' top prospects. He probably will be the Louisville Bats' first baseman when their season opens Thursday.
Votto, who bats left-handed but throws with his right, played with the Reds for 17 games this spring before being optioned to Louisville on March 16. During his stint with the major league team he hit .240 with one home run and five RBIs in 25 at-bats. He also drew nine walks.
The Reds aren't concerned about what he can do at the plate. They want to see him develop in the field.
"Joey's working on his defense, which is, I think, what everybody feels he needs to improve upon to be a good big-leaguer," said Terry Reynolds, the Reds' director of player development. "That's a point of emphasis for us with him in Louisville."
Votto grew up in Etobicoke, just west of downtown Toronto and about 10 minutes from the Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays play. Since Canada doesn't produce baseball players the way the Caribbean does, he figured he had to work harder to be noticed. He has kept that mantra, and it's why he says he doesn't feel any of the pressure that comes with being a top prospect.
"A lot of people assume I'm going to hit well," he said. "But I had to remind myself how hard I worked last year and how hungry I was. I have to maintain that, and frankly, I have to have more of that."
Last season at Double-A Chattanooga, Votto established himself as the best hitter in the Southern League. He led the league in batting average (.319), doubles (46) and walks (88) and finished second in homers (22) and third in RBIs (77). He was the league's MVP, and the Reds named him their minor league Hitter of the Year.
The way Votto sees things, all of those accolades might as well have come last century.
"I don't want to settle on what I did last year," he said. "I did some good things. I had a real good year in the league I was in, but I feel like I truly can do more. If you don't take that approach into when you compete, you'd be cheating yourself."
Cutting corners is something Votto isn't good at doing. During batting practice yesterday he was so eager for his turn that he jumped into the cage without a helmet -- then looked surprised when coaches told him to grab one.
It's the kind of mistake Bats manager Rick Sweet likes to see. It's also why Sweet believes Votto has a bright future.
"With experience at Triple-A that he'll get this year and improvement that he's making defensively," Sweet said, "he's a guy that's going to be in the big leagues very soon and could have a pretty high ceiling."