Thursday, March 11, 2010

Votto and Harang leadership

I was able to spend about an hour at the Reds practice session this morning. Two full fields are dedicated to the major league team and those competing for the 25-man roster. Four fields are dedicated to the minor league players. Today, I spent all my time with the MLB players.

I watched the pitchers do a bit of PFP - they were practicing fielding balls hit back to them and turning to throw to first or second. This practice took place on one of the half-fields, where it is just the infield, no OF. I was impressed at how fast paced the drill was, and how many times they rotated through. Here is a picture of Bronson handling a tough one back through the middle. You can also see the planes parked in the background.

Then I walked over to watch batting practice. The first hitting group I saw, and I suspect the first group overall, was Votto, Bruce, Rolen and Gomes. They all hit really well, especially Votto and Bruce. The second group included Orlando Cabrera, Chris Dickerson, and a couple others I don't remember. Dickerson hit the ball exceptionally well.

In between batting practice pitches, two coaches hit ground balls to infielders. Paul Janish fielded balls at 3B while Scott Rolen was hitting. No one on the team has an arm as strong as Janish.

Brandon Phillips got into a playful competition with coach Billy Hatcher who was hitting balls to Brandon. Brandon was vocally challenging Hatcher to hit something by him, and for the most part, Brandon fielded everything. In fact, he was fielding balls all over the place. At one point when Hatcher hit one that BP fielded easily, Brandon teased "That wasn't you in the World Series, Hatch." Phillips was referring to the 1990 World Series where Hatcher led the Reds with 7 consecutive hits in the first two games of the Reds sweep over the Oakland A's Bash Brothers team. After Hatcher finished hitting balls to Phillips, they celebrated right in front of where we were standing.

I also want to comment about Joey Votto's leadership in practice. He took dozens of ground balls at 1B while other people were batting. Many of his practice balls were fielding and throwing to the pitcher covering first. Corky Miller and later coach Bill Speier performed the role of the pitcher. Votto is really hard on himself when he doesn't get the toss perfectly back chest high. He also frequently cheered for his teammates who were hitting, complementing them by name when they had really good hits. I wish I had a picture of Votto practicing, but they all turned out blurry.

Anyone who thinks this isn't Votto's team is mistaken. He leads vocally and by his actions, for example taking the most practice balls of anyone. For most of this time during BP he was the only one taking practice balls and kept after the coaches to keep hitting to him in different situations and positions. It has to be inspirational when the best player on the team works so hard at practice.

As we were leaving we walked by the pitchers' half-field where Aaron Harang (alone) was practicing bunting. A staff member was feeding a pitching machine. We saw him bunt about 20 balls, which was just a small fraction of his total time practicing that. Again, great leadership from the big dog on the pitching staff.

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