For first baseman Joey Votto, the 2005 season was one to forget.
After batting .301 with 19 home runs, 92 RBIs and 90 walks in 2004 with Class A Dayton and Potomac, Votto became a top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds farm system. One year later, it seemed that he was no longer a rising star.
Votto hit just .256 in the Florida State League while getting on base at a .330 clip. A player that had built his success on working the count, drawing walks and putting himself in a position to get pitches to drive, Votto walked just 52 times in 124 games.
Move ahead one more year, and Votto has returned to the prospect map with a vengeance. The left-handed 22-year old is back to his old form, terrorizing Southern League pitching with Double-A Chattanooga. Votto ranks in the league's top three in each of the Triple Crown categories. While the reemergence may have surprised many scouts, Votto saw it coming all along.
"I was actually far more confident last year after the season than I was after the 2004 season," said Votto. "Despite the numbers, I felt great and I was moving in the right direction."
The Canada native will get a chance to showcase his talents, playing for the World Team at the 2006 XM Satellite-Radio All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park on July 9. Votto's inclusion marks an important milestone in his climb up the prospect ranks.
"Of all the things I wanted to do this year, I really wanted to be a part of the Futures Game," Votto said. "It was on my list of the three or four things I wanted to accomplish this season."
Taking a more balanced approach and shortening his swing have been keys for Votto, who struggled against left-handed pitching last season. He hit just .193 with a .315 slugging percentage against lefties in 2005.
This season, neither right-handers nor left-handers have been able to tame Votto. He ranks first in the Southern League in home runs (15), second in RBIs (48) and third in batting average (.318), while leading his team to the first half North Division championship.
"A big part of the change was maturation and just learning the game," Votto said. "I needed to unlock some of my potential. Basically, it was just about learning from the coaches and getting better against left-handers. I still feel I am improving each and every day."
Votto is one of a number of Canadian players in the Minor leagues who are beginning to make a stir. While Votto is the only Canadian member of this year's Future Game roster, Canadian baseball is on the rise. Canada's 8-6 victory over the United States in the World Baseball Classic this spring is just one sign of the increased focus on baseball in a hockey-crazed nation.
"Baseball in Canada is like soccer in the U.S.," Votto said. "It is growing, and some people are starting to gain interest. The way that there are Americans playing high-level soccer, there are Canadians breaking into the Major Leagues."
Canada is already well represented in the Major Leagues, with players such as Jason Bay, Eric Bedard, Corey Koskie and Rich Harden all hailing from north of the border. Votto, who was drafted straight from his Toronto high school by the Reds in 2002 with the 44th overall pick, hopes to add his name to the ever-growing list of Canadian big leaguers.
"I know a bunch of the players who are getting called up, and I get along with all of them," Votto said. "I think it is cool to be a part of this. With the young guys coming up -- Scott Mathieson just got called up, Adam Loewen, Scott Thorman just got called up -- it is really awesome to be a part of it. It is obviously a good sign for the future of Canadian baseball."
Votto may get a shot. Despite his rough 2005 campaign he has established himself as the top first baseman in the Reds farm system. Although the Reds have depth at first base with Adam Dunn and Scott Hatteberg at the Major League level, Votto could be joining the ranks of his countrymen in the not-too-distant future.