Joey Votto was drafted out of Richview Collegiate Institute in Toronto by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2nd round, 44th overall, in the 2002 MLB Draft at age 18. While in high school, Votto had spent most of his time at third base, but also saw time his senior season as a catcher. When his name was called at the draft he was announced as a catcher. Scouting reports on Votto out of high school noted good raw power potential and a good ability to hit the ball to all fields, though there were questions about whether he could remain at catcher.

Votto signed quickly and the Reds sent him to the Gulf Coast League to begin his career. The league is very pitcher friendly, but the left handed hitter more than held his own as he hit .269/.342/.531 with 25 extra-base hits in 202 plate appearances with 21 walks and 45 strikeouts. He showed solid plate discipline and very good power for his age. On the defensive side of things, he was all over the place. He would play seven games behind the plate, throwing out 22% of attempted base runners and allowing three passed balls. He would spend another 19 games at third base but was a disaster there posting an .830 fielding percentage in limited action. He would also play three games in left field where he made three errors.

Joey Votto

Joey Votto went from a below-average catcher with a good bat to a Gold Glove winner with an MVP bat.

The next season Votto was sent to Dayton and he struggled to hit in the first half of the season as he posted a .231/.348/.287 line in 60 games with 34 walks and 64 strikeouts. His power he had previously showed had disappeared, though his plate discipline remained strong. The Reds also made the move to shift him to first base. After struggling in the first half with Dayton he was sent to Billings for the second half and turned his season around in the hitter friendly league. Over 70 games with the Mustangs Votto hit .317/.452/.488 while walking 56 times and striking out 80 times to go along with 26 extra-base hits. After the season he was ranked by Baseball America as the 10th best prospect in the Pioneer League and was noted for a strong bat, but was never thought of as a guy who would do much with his glove.

In 2004 the Reds sent Votto back to Dayton for a do over and Votto responded well as he hit .302/.419/.486 for the Dragons with 79 walks and 110 strikeouts in 473 plate appearances. He had 26 doubles and 14 home runs before earning an August promotion to Potomac and the Carolina League where he hit .298/.385/.560 with 7 more doubles and 5 more home runs to finish out the season with a final line of .301/.413/.499 with 33 doubles and 19 home runs to go along with 90 walks and 131 strikeouts.  After the season Baseball America ranked him as the 7th best prospect in the Midwest League and he was once again noted for his ability with the bat, but was again talked about as a below-average defender who wouldn’t be more than that.

The 2005 season is one that Joey Votto would like to erase from his memory and one that he has talked poorly about since. The Reds instituted a take-the-first-pitch rule to each at bat in the hopes that it would help their hitters learn better plate discipline and give them a better ability to recognize pitches. In theory, I believe there could be something to that, but in practice it just led to a whole lot of first pitch get-me-over fastballs as opposing teams found out about the rule and hitters were consistently working from behind the count. On top of that rule, Joey Votto was sent to the new High-A team in the Florida State League, which is notoriously pitcher friendly. When you put it all together, Votto, like many other Reds prospects that year, struggled. Votto hit just .256/.330/.425 with 52 doubles and 122 strikeouts in 529 plate appearances. He showed good home run power as he hit 17, but he hit just 23 doubles on the season. The Reds sent Votto to the Arizona Fall League following the season where his struggles continued as he hit .250/.289/.306. Scouts openly wondered if he would ever hit left handed pitching, but still saw good power potential in his bat.

In 2006 Joey Votto found himself in Chattanooga playing at the Double-A level. The 22-year-old took home the league MVP Award after hitting an impressive .319/.408/.547 with 46 doubles, 2 triples and 22 home runs while drawing 78 walks and 109 strikeouts in 590 plate appearances. After the season Baseball America ranked him the 7th best prospect in the Southern League and the 44th best prospect in baseball. For the first time in his career, he was also noted to be a solid defender at first base as he began showing good range at a position that doesn’t often see rangy players.

The 2007 season was the last time that Votto would spend time in the minor leagues with the exception of rehab. The Reds sent him to Louisville where he was strong, but took a step backwards from his outstanding year in Chattanooga. With the Bats, Votto went on to hit .294/.381/.478 with 21 doubles, 2 triples and 22 home runs in 580 plate appearances while walking 70 times and striking out 110 times.  During the season, in the hopes of giving him more flexibility, the Reds attempted to play Votto in left field for 40 games in order to take advantage of his athleticism. He showed off solid range and a good arm. His performance earned him a September call up to the Reds where he hit the cover off of the ball posting a .321/.360/.548 with 7 doubles and 4 home runs in 24 games. After the season he was ranked as the 10th best prospect in the International League and the 43rd best prospect in baseball.

Looking Back

Joey Votto was a well regarded prospect from the time he was drafted. While he was seen as a bit of an over-draft, he still signed for second round money and was projected to go later in that round instead of 3rd overall in the second round.  He even had several very strong performances that suggested he could become a very good hitter at the Major League level. From the beginning Votto showed good understanding of the strikezone and plenty of power potential. While you can never project a player to go on to be a career .316/.415/.553 hitter and future MVP, there were signs that he could become very good at the plate. The most interesting thing that continued to be said about Votto while he was in the minors was that he was not going to be a good defender. While Gold Glove Awards are highly debatable at this point in time, just about everyone believes that Votto is a very strong defender at this point in his career. He put in the work and even in just the time he has been in the Major Leagues has improved a lot. A lesser athletic first baseman may not have been able to show as much improvement.

30 Responses

  1. Kevin

    First off, excellent feature, excellent post. Great read.

    Joey Votto is a rare breed in sports, a triple combination of athlete, thinker, and worker. He’s an incredible athlete (just look at the balance in his batting stance, it’s picture perfect and something you don’t think of when you think “Athlete”, but incredibly important to what Votto does at the plate). He’s an incredible baseball thinker. A student of the game that soaks up old (reads Ted Williams) and new baseball knowledge (studies video and charts and God knows what else is available these days). And he’s a tireless worker. Constantly unhappy with his results, he’s always battling with himself to improve some facet of his game. And on top of those three, even though when he’s healthy he’s one of the best players in baseball, he’s a genteel Ontarian who doesn’t have the DNA to be arrogant or selfish.

    When you put those three attributes together: talent, smarts, work-ethic…you get success in pretty much any field.

    So even though he had some struggles in the minors, he possessed tools that are not in the canonical 5-tool categorization that led him to adjust, improve and ultimately succeed at the highest level.

    It’s pure joy as a Reds fan to watch Joey Votto play baseball.

    Lastly, here’s an interview before his 2007 call-up that gives you some perspective on the way he thinks about baseball:

      • Kevin

        Care to elaborate how that could possibly be a weakness?

      • MK

        Think it is pretty well known that Joey is pretty intelligent but internalizes a lot of things including the pressures of his position as star. I think we saw that a couple of years ago when he had to take some mental time off and although I am not certain I think it has some to do with his recovery from knee problems. You saw it again with his WBC decisions this spring and then the apologies that followed.

        That has a way of being very exhausting during a long season and/or career.

      • Beard

        I heard Pete Rose say one time that he thought Mike Schmidt would have been the greatest baseball player of all-time if he had been stone dead stupid. Instead he was very intelligent and it appears Pete thought that Schmidt over-thought things and in the long run it actually hurt him.

      • Kevin

        And the moral here is what? Because Pete Rose didn’t think through things, made a whole bunch of stupid decisions, got into a lot of trouble, and is banned from baseball. That’s ripe having Pete Rose tell Mike Schmidt how much he should have thought about things. I guess Schmidt’s response might be: “Pete, what do you think about my bust in Cooperstown”.

        How would Votto’s intelligence have any association with him taking more time off from injury? That is a baffling statement. When Votto did come back he was clearly not 100%, basically coming back as a singles hitter. If he had thought less and came back earlier, he would have been better off how?

        My opinion is what Votto went through with his father’s death and subsequent panic attacks is unrelated to his baseball intelligence, his approach to hitting strategy and how he thinks about pitchers. But go ahead and make the case that it’s related. I’d love to have that debate.

  2. Scott R

    Very nice read Doug. Last year at ST, when I went to pracice Sean Casey was a guest instructor. The highlight of my trip was listening to those two talk while taking fielding practice (the fence was about 15-20 feet away from 1st base). Votto was coming off of his Gold Glove award and was discussing with Casey what he was trying to work on defensively, which was mostly his throws to second. I think was mostly concerned about his arm angle on his throws. A very hard worker indeed.

  3. sultan of swaff

    I get why the scouts were so down on Votto’s defense. In the purest sense, he was never smooth with the glove and would look goofy doing things like fielding a ball off to the side of his body while stepping with the wrong foot, but would make the play regardless because he’s such a good athlete. I mean, it still bugs me how he steps with his right foot throwing back to the pitcher after a pickoff attempt. Eh, Canadians. I still think we should’ve explored moving him to left field. Yonder Alonso pre-arb in GABP is way cheaper than Ludwick.

    Can someone explain why I’m not a paid scout if spouting crap like this gets you on a payroll? From MLBtraderumors:

    An opposing NL scout tells FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal that the Reds “are crazy” if they use Aroldis Chapman as a starter. “It’s Joba Chamberlain all over again. His velocity dropped off in the second inning. He couldn’t get his off-speed stuff over the plate consistently. No question in my mind, he’s the closer,” the scout said.

    Yep, right, Chapman didn’t have the endurance to keep his velocity up after 30 pitches. *facepalm*

    • ChrisSD


      Maybe that is why he is a scout and not a GM. :-)

    • Doug Gray

      Votto refused to move to left field for Alonso. That is why it wasn’t explored.

  4. fromcubawithluv

    This post is just fantastic. It is really cool to see how he was viewed as a minor leaguer and how he hit at each level. I hope you do more of these in the future. Hoping for Cueto and Bruce :)

    Even though not in minors with the reds, Latos may be kind of fun.

    thanks doug

    • Doug Gray

      Both will be coming soon enough. This is going to happen every Friday until the season starts, then maybe one Friday a month once it does start.

  5. Ryan the Red

    Good read thanks. I forgot/didnt know how good his plate discipline was in the minors. Also shows that talent/stats/tools aren’t everything. While it certainly helps to have those things, IMO work ethic is just as important. Joey Votto worked his @$$ off to be what he is today. Glad he’s a Red for a long time. He leads by example which is great for those youngsters in camp to see.

  6. Jim t

    Doug, soto is quietly having a nice spring. Should be a interesting follow this year at AAA.

    • hunr4redsoct

      Soto left game after only one at bat tonight, I hope that was planned.

  7. hunr4redsoct

    Bryson Smith just went 1st-home on a Robinson triple, he is a lot faster than I expected, H Rodriguez fanned twice didn’t look good.

    • Doug Gray

      Bryson Smith is a really fast runner. He isn’t on that Hamilton/Bowe or even D Robinson level, but he is at that next level. He is quite fast.

  8. MK

    Optioned to Triple-A Louisville: RHP Curtis Partch, IF Henry Rodriguez, 1B Neftali Soto and RHP Pedro Villarreal;

    Optioned to Double-A Pensacola 1B/OF Donald Lutz.

    Gives credence to the disabled list thing I mentioned the other day.

    Only 13 position players left on the 40-man. That could be the opening day group.

    • wanderinredsfan

      What about Olivo? He’s still catching all of Chapman’s innings, ahead of Mesoraco.

      • MK

        Kind of discouraging if you are rooting for Mez because he wasn’t allowed to catch Chapman often in 2012 meaning he still has no experience with him.

        Think Mez has really stepped up too. So you have to hope it isn’t a predetermined decision.

  9. hunr4redsoct

    Fun to see Hamilton in person, stand up triple in 1st, had 2nd stolen in 3rd but Hurries fouled

  10. peppe

    If you pick olivo over mes you are just like dusty mes did catch chatman

    • MK

      peppe don’t think we said he never caught Chapman, but I know several times last year Mes came out for defense in the ninth inning last year when Chapman came into the game and this spring he hasn’t had much of an opportunity either. That has to be a little discouraging when you consider one of the two pitchers Mes caught last year was Leake.

      It certainly will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

      Looking forward to watching the game to day on TV.

    • MK

      Today- Hanigan, Mesoraco, (Miller/Olivo), (Ashley/Barnhart), ( Fleury/Gonzalez/ Berset), Hudson

      Had Mes not have improved his defense this spring I would have had him third. In my mind for the #2 catcher it is all about defense.

      2-years from now my projection is (Hanigan/Mesoraco), Barnhart, Hudson

      I also think Chapman is their best closer but he probably isn’t going to be and Mes might not be the #2 catcher. Not up to me.

  11. MK

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