"One thing I did last summer, I called him and told him to work on his defense as much as his offense," Narron said. "My understanding is he's been working hard defensively."That phone call came out of the blue for Votto, who was sleeping when Narron dialed him up. But it proved to be a confidence boost to know the Reds manager was paying close attention to his development. "I missed his call, and I called him back and I was surprised," Votto said. "I said, 'Who is this?' he said, 'Jerry.' I said, 'Who's Jerry?' Then I was like, 'Oh, yes sir.' It made me feel good. When someone is paying attention to you while he's busy doing his job, it's nice to know. He's telling you he thinks you have a good chance." During morning fielding drills, the Reds' first base trio of Hatteberg, Conine and Votto dutifully take ground balls and often work through situations. Each practiced scooping short hops or making throws to second base. In the various drills, Votto looked just as comfortable as the more polished veterans. Votto says he prefers to listen more and talk less when around Hatteberg and Conine, two of the more respected veterans in the game today. Hatteberg, 37, has liked what he has seen from Votto the past two springs. "He's one of those guys with unlimited potential," Hatteberg said. "He has got huge power. It seems like he's doing a great job of having an idea at what he wants to do at the plate. He's not just a one-dimensional power guy. He wants to hit for average. Defensively, I'm learning from him, too. He's very smooth over there. He's got a lot of skills in all aspects." The stars could align well for Votto this time next year. Both Hatteberg and Conine are signed only through this season, although the club does hold a 2008 option on Hatteberg. "I assume he'll be here shortly," Hatteberg said. "I saw him for a few at-bats last year. I know he had a great year at Double-A. I saw his face on the diamond screen I think more than my teammates as a 'player on the rise'." It'd be realistic to think that another good year could have Votto in the Majors when September callups are promoted. Until his time comes, he plans on leaving his mark at big-league camp for as long as possible. "I'm going to take advantage of the situation I'm in right now," Votto said. "I'm standing around Jeff Conine and Scott Hatteberg every single day listening to them and their stories and watching them go about their work. I have Ken Griffey Jr. in center field. Alex Gonzalez, one of the best defensive players in baseball, is at shortstop. I'd be a fool not to pay attention, watch and learn and add it to my own game. That's where I'm at here."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less