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Votto inspires Reds with 'nonstop greatness'

First baseman coming off best season of career at age 34
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Because he's been in the Major Leagues for 10 years and doesn't seek attention while performing at a very high rate, fans could be vulnerable to taking Joey Votto for granted. Don't.

There aren't many players around like the Reds first baseman, who is getting better with age. What do teammates appreciate most when watching Votto?

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Because he's been in the Major Leagues for 10 years and doesn't seek attention while performing at a very high rate, fans could be vulnerable to taking Joey Votto for granted. Don't.

There aren't many players around like the Reds first baseman, who is getting better with age. What do teammates appreciate most when watching Votto?

"Other than the fact that he's arguably the best hitter in the game right now?" said pitcher Homer Bailey, the only Reds player with more tenure than Votto.

Bailey named Reds' Opening Day starter

Votto, 34, is coming off of the best season of his career -- even better than the 2010 season, when he won the National League MVP Award. In 2017, he batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs, 106 runs scored and reached base a Major League-leading 321 times. He also led the Majors with a 1.032 OPS, 134 walks and a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 1.61. It happened as he started all 162 games.

However, Votto finished two points shy of Giancarlo Stanton from winning his second NL MVP. The season before that, Votto was the first player to hit better than .400 in the second half since Ichiro Suzuki in 2004.

"Seeing him go about his work every day -- offensively and defensively and baserunning -- it's just impressive," said young Reds outfielder Jesse Winker, a left-handed hitter like Votto.

It wasn't all that long ago that Votto was criticized by some for walking too much. Those concerns have been all but drowned out. His discipline hasn't waned -- he struck out only 83 times last season. Votto knows the strike zone as well as anyone, and he keeps his approach the same.

"Against left-handed pitching, right-handed pitching, velocity pitching, guys that throw more breaking balls and changeup, pitchers that pitch him inside, outside, up-and-down, he gets the barrel of the bat on the ball as well as anybody I have seen with great consistency," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Over his career, Votto is a .313/.428/.541 hitter with 1,586 hits, 257 home runs and 830 RBIs. It's unlikely he'll reach the once-coveted benchmarks of 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, but Votto could redefine the modern evaluation of a Hall of Fame career.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Votto on avoiding K's, approach

A lot of Votto's recent success has come under the radar. The Reds won the NL Central division in 2010 and '12 and earned a Wild Card berth in '13. Since then, Cincinnati has endured four-straight losing seasons and a rebuild.

"I think any time you have a team that's had the lack of success that our organization has had over the past couple of years, it's hard to look past that to see what is truly there," Bailey said.

A few days from breaking camp with the Reds for another campaign, Votto doesn't feel like a great hitter at the moment. He's batting .154 in 17 Cactus League games and is unconcerned about burnishing his reputation or Hall of Fame credentials.

"I've got a lot of work to do, personally," Votto said. "It's not necessarily indicative of how I am going to perform. I feel like I've got work to do from now until Opening Day, and beyond. That's what is on my mind."

Votto is continually making modifications to his game. He will never disclose them exactly, especially in the batter's box, but he's not just worried about facing pitchers -- he's staring down time and his own shortcomings.

A 2011 NL Gold Glove winner, Votto saw his defense slip in '16 and showed renewed dedication that made him a finalist for the award last year. He didn't like how he performed running on the bases in '17 and spent time this offseason and spring improving.

"I'm in that phase where I need to make a genuine adjustment and work better, work more efficiently," Votto said. "The tough thing is that once you get a little bit older, things don't come as easily. It requires not only attention to detail, but some effort. I know that for me to play the way I like to play, I have to go all-in."

Teammates definitely notice that diligence. Reliever Jared Hughes faced Votto as a division rival with the Pirates and Brewers. Now he gets to watch up close what it takes for Votto to be Votto.

"Oh my goodness," Hughes said. "He comes here every day, it's almost like you know where he's going to be and what time he's going to be there. I feel like it's every morning at 7:45, he's going to be in the weight room doing his exercises and getting ready to go hit. It's nonstop greatness."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto