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Struggle taught Votto the key to success
2010 National League MVP cites failure as defining moment of career
03/12/2014 10:00 AM ET
Joey Votto thought he'd skip over Triple-A after posting a .956 OPS in Double-A in 2006. (Joy R. Absalon/MiLB.com)

In our feature series, I Knew I Would Make It, Major Leaguers talk to MiLB.com about the defining juncture that signaled to them that they were on the way to a career in "The Show."

It's not often you hear a MVP and four-time All-Star talk about failure. But to hear Joey Votto tell it, those were the moments that changed him.

Votto has gone on to quite a career since the Reds drafted him in the second round of the 2002 Draft. In addition to winning the 2010 National League MVP, Votto has won a Gold Glove for his defensive work at first base and is the active leader in on-base percentage with a .419 mark heading into the 2014 season.

It didn't always come easy to him, though. It took a little bit of time in the Minor Leagues before Votto felt he was ready for the big leagues, though it didn't happen when the slugger wanted it to.

"I felt like I was going to get called up when I was 22 in Double-A and I didn't," the Canadian said. "I played the next year in Triple-A and I thought during the entire year that I would get called up and I didn't. Then I was finally a September callup."

The initial year in question was 2006, which he spent with the Chattanooga Lookouts, then a Reds affiliate. The 30-year-old first baseman batted .319, slugged 22 homers, stole 24 bases and drew 78 walks. Votto was selected to play in the Futures Game for the first time and captured the Southern League MVP award.

There were signs pointing toward 2006 being a big year for Votto. First, in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Votto slugged 17 homers and was sixth in the league with 83 RBIs. It was during the 2005 World Baseball Cup, though, that he stepped up his game. He batted .333 with five homers and 16 RBIs for Team Canada while making the All-Tournament team.

The following season in Louisvile was the final chapter in Votto's Minor League career. He earned his second trip to the Futures Game, was an International League All-Star and finally made it to Cincinnati, where he batted .321 with a .907 OPS in a late-season callup.

That was the last Votto would see of the Minors -- save for a few rehab appearances -- as he spent 2008 with the Reds. He slugged 24 homers and finished second to the Cubs' Geovany Soto in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

But the experience that prepared him to be a big leaguer happened years before that. The year after being drafted, Votto began 2003 with Class A Dayton in the Midwest League. He struggled there, posting a .231/.348/.287 slash line in 60 games for the Dragons.

''I remember not being happy," he said. "My first long stretch of failure for me. It was a difficult time for me baseball-wise, but it was a great time for me to do some learning and how to fail and how to get out of failure and learn my strengths and weaknesses.

"It was demoralizing. It challenged the faith I had in myself. It didn't stop, it lasted months."

Those lessons paid off in the season's second half, which Votto spent in Rookie-level Billings, where he posted a .949 OPS in 70 Pioneer Leagues games. In 2004, he returned to Dayton, slugging 14 homers in 111 Midwest League games. From there, Votto never looked back.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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