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General : : Professional
PG Alum Votto Wins NL MVP
Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Congratulations to PG Alum Joey Votto on winning the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player award. Votto becomes the first PG Alum to win an MVP award, although there are certainly more to follow in the near future.

RHP Zach Greinke was the first PG Alum to win one of the “major” individual awards, having earned the American League Cy Young Award in 2009.

Votto appeared in three Perfect Game events in 2001 before being drafted in the second round of the 2002 draft by the Reds (44th pick overall) out of Richview Collegiate Secondary School in Toronto, Canada. He was signed by Perfect Game’s good friend John Castleberry, currently the director/organizer of the East Coast Pro Showcase and a regional crosschecker with the World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Votto was listed at 6-2, 196 back then and was primarily a third baseman that intrigued scouts because he was learning how to catch. Imagine Votto as a left-handed hitting catcher right now and debate whether you would want him or Joe Mauer on your team! He ran a 7.11 60 and threw 82 mph across the infield at the Perfect Game National Showcase. That raw arm strength was probably at the root of his eventual move across the diamond to first base after both playing third and catching during his initial year in the Gulf Coast League (.269-9-33/.873 OPS).

The notes and reports from the three 2001 events (2001 Sunshine Showcase, 2001 National Showcase, 2001 WWBA National Championship) are very consistent in Votto’s evaluation. Here’s the report from the National, which was held at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Votto made a name for himself at Tropicana. He is a good-looking athlete with a strong baseball body and a nice arm. Most importantly he has a beautiful left-hand swing that projects to hit with plus power. The ball jumps off his bat and sounds a bit different than most wood bats.

Although I wasn’t working with Perfect Game at the time, I saw Votto play at both the National Showcase and in Jupiter. I particularly remember sitting in the stands talking with Votto’s mother on the far back Red field at the Jupiter Complex during one game.

Two things in retrospect stood out about Votto, but keep in mind that they apply to a number of similar prospects every year. First of all, Votto had a very strong, loose and mature build, the type the any scout can say “he looks like a future big leaguer” with some confidence. We in scouting do plenty of projection physically, but sometimes a player doesn’t need much physical projection. That was the case with Votto.

Similar position players in the 2011 class (i.e. “he looks like a future big leaguer”) could be 3B/LF Travis Harrison, OF Josh Bell, OF Derek Fisher, C Cameron Gallagher or OF Billy Flamion.

The second thing was simply Votto’s easy tension-free swing and his raw bat speed. You knew watching Votto, being a Canadian, that he hadn’t seen significant amounts of high-level pitching, but the looseness and ease of the swing was obvious.

The obvious comparison for Votto is Twins first baseman and former American League MVP Justin Morneau, a fellow Canadian. Morneau was the Twins’ 3rd round pick in 1999, but did not participate in Perfect Game events and was largely underexposed to the scouting community. However, I remember then-Twins Scouting Director (now Assistant GM) Mike Radcliff telling me in early April of 1999, while sitting along the left-field line at Baylor way before a game started (can’t remember why we were both at Baylor), that Morneau was the best left-handed hitting high school prospect in that draft class. It was a testament to Radcliff’s savvy as a scouting director that he drafted the player he thought was the best hitter in the draft in the third round.

LESSON FOR YOUNG TOP PROSPECTS

It is very interesting and instructive to track Votto’s path through the minor leagues. Every top prospect in high school right now with aspirations of playing in the Major Leagues should pay attention to this! Remember, we’re talking about the 2010 National League MVP, a very special player.

Votto signed almost immediately and played his first summer in the Gulf Coast League. His first full season was split between advanced short-season ball and low A. His second season was 80% spent in low A with a late- season promotion to high A. His third season was spent entirely in high A and his fourth season spent completely in AA. His fifth full season was spent in AAA (.294-22-92/.859 OPS), where he played a bit of outfield for the first time in his professional career. At the end of that fifth full year in the minors (sixth overall), Votto got a call up to Cincinnati in September, where he promptly tore it up (.321-4-17/.908 OPS in 84 AB’s) and ensured his spot in the Reds’ lineup for the next spring.

The point being this: The most valuable player in the National League this year took a picture perfect, symmetrical path to the big leagues, the one that is designed in player development offices all over the country. He signed in June of his draft year and spent five years and three months in the minor leagues, and was successful at every level without exception and didn’t endure one serious injury. He reached the Major Leagues a few days before his 24th birthday.

The Reds didn’t rush him despite having some pretty mediocre teams in those years. He was ready to contribute when he reached Cincinnati.

So, for you top high school prospects, if there is anyone in your ear right now saying that you can reach the big leagues in three or four years out of high school, or that you should/can skip a level, tell them to get real and stop messing with your mind. The National League MVP had an outstanding and injury-free minor league career and didn’t make the Majors until his sixth year.


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