Double-A Report

Votto moves up with his own hitting style

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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.”

High Expectations

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.

Eastern Influences

• Indians outfielder Brad Snyder was out of the chute early at Double-A Akron, though he was still working to improve the major flaw that landed him back in Double-A this season: two-strike approach. Snyder whiffed 94 times in 304 at-bats after being promoted to Akron from high Class A Kinston last season. And so far this year, his approach wasn’t getting the best results, with 19 strikeouts in 46 at-bats. “I think he’s settling in pretty good,” Aeros manager Tim Bogar said. “He’s working on the plate discipline and he knows that’s the major reason he’s still here. He’s very comfortable and confident now within his two-strike approach, so he’ll just continue to work counts and you’ll see things start clicking for him.”

Southern Accents

• Last season, doubts about his power potential, as well as his position, led many scouts to question the long-term role and ceiling of Devil Rays infielder Gabby Martinez. But after a raucous start to 2006--and improved defense at first base--Martinez is flying up the Tampa Bay depth chart. Through 34 at-bats, the 22-year-old was hitting .382-3-7 and was also controlling the strike zone with an 8-7 strikeout-walk ratio. “Power’s such a latent tool for young hitters to begin with,” Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics said. “He’s always had that potential, it’s just that sometimes the frequency wasn’t there. But he’s started out like a house on fire and really is showing some pop to go along with the added consistency at the plate.”

• Double-A Mississippi catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia started the year in an 0-for-13 slump before hitting a ninth-inning home run off Huntsville reliever Joe Winkelsas for his first Double-A hit. “It was just one of those things where it’s better to start off in a slump than have it come on later,” Saltalamacchia said. “I started seeing balls better the day before that, and things started rolling a little bit from there. Hopefully it’s over now and I can just move in a positive direction.” After said slump, the Braves No. 1 prospect went 7-for-20 with another homer and four RBIs.

Texas Leaguers

• Double-A Corpus Christi set season-highs in hits (15) and runs (10), but needless to say that wasn’t exactly music to manager Dave Clark’s ears in a recent 20-10 Hooks’ loss to Midland.

In the opener of a 10-day road trip, Corpus Christi pitching allowed those 20 runs on 26 hits, as the Rock Hounds put up two runs or more in five innings and scored in every frame. Leading the hit parade for Midland were right fielder Jason Perry--who hit for the cycle--and second baseman Kevin Melillo, who went 6-for-7 with a pair of doubles.

Righthander Josh Miller, who was signed out of the independent Atlantic League last season, was roughed up the most, allowing six runs on 11 hits over just four innings. “The worst game for this team ever?” Clark told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. “It’s probably the worst game to ever (expletive) be played with what we went through. It was (expletive). It was everything. In all phases of the (expletive) game, we didn’t do (expletive). We showed up--that’s all we did. “We got our (butts) kicked. That’s the only way I can explain it--we got our (butts) kicked.”

Compiled by Chris Kline