The Reds are counting on Joey Votto to be a leader in the clubhouse given the investment in youthful talent.
Votto, 32, was the National League MVP in 2010 at the beginning of the Reds three playoff runs in four seasons.
The Reds have traded both its 2016 All-Stars, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, for six prospects. The team that lost 98 games last season is picked to finish at the bottom of the NL Central.
Votto had a subpar start in 2015. The career .311 hitter’s batting average dipped to .273 on July 5 and he was not selected to the All-Star game.
The Reds’ third selection in the 2002 draft, finished third in the MVP voting by finishing with a .314 average with 29 home runs and 80 RBI. He set a team record with 143 walks and led the NL, finishing .002 away from leading the league with a .459 on base percentage.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the way I played in the first half,” Votto said. “Eventually, my swing got to be where I wanted it to be and I was able to repeat that. Combined with my approach, I ended the season playing well.”
The team traded away two top pitchers, Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. The Reds started rookie pitchers in each of its last 64 games and the team narrowly avoided 100 losses with 98.
“I signed up to be part of a winning team,” Votto said. “No matter how well I play, It’s really not a good feeling knowing that you’re playing well and you lost another game.”
“Hopefully, that changes soon and I’m excited about the future,” Votto said.
Votto is now in a position to be a leader on a team filled with talented younger players, who have yet to prove themselves at the Major League level.
“Those sorts of things come with time and experience,” Votto said. “I’d like to thing it happens organically or else it has a phony feel to it. Myself and a teammate were talking about Scott Rolen today. He never said anything about leadership but without question was a player that we looked to, admired and respected and tried to learn from. At no point did he ever bring it up or force it on people, it just happened naturally. I want to treat everyone with respect and having discourse with them hopefully will result in adjustments for themselves.”
Votto will not, however, tolerate a losing attitude among his teammates. The national expectations are low but Votto rejects them as a self-fulfilling prophesy.
“I’ve thought about how I wanted to respond to that,” Votto said. “The season hasn’t started, hasn’t finished. I refuse to go into a season thinking that it is written in stone that we’re going to be in last place, we’re not going to make the playoffs, or have a chance at the World Series. That is probably the one thing I’ll confront people on. If there is any sort of conversation in the clubhouse about us being a poor club or have no chance. I come into this season expecting to be part of a club that competes.”
During a situational drill with live hitting, base running and fielding (everything but pitching), coach Freddie Benevides needed a base runner to set up a situation. “We need a runner at second, one of you guys that just hit.”
Votto was the first to respond and ran to take secondbase. It is a signal that he is keen on setting a good example.