When the Reds' prized first baseman Joey Votto went on the disabled list earlier this season with a left quadriceps strain, one of the replacement options available to manager Bryan Price was the big, strong left-handed-hitting Donald Lutz -- especially when Cincinnati faced right-handed pitching.
Lutz has an interesting background. He was born in Watertown, N.Y., but he moved to his mother's native Germany when he was very young. Lutz was a hockey "enforcer" growing up in Germany. His baseball days didn't come until his teens. Lutz attended the Major League Baseball European Academy and played for the German National team. The Reds signed him in 2007.
One of my first scouting looks at Lutz came in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. He played first base for the Peoria Javelinas, batting .395 in a limited 11 games. Included in Lutz's 17 hits were five doubles and three home runs. He also stole two bases, and that's significant.
When I watched Lutz that fall, several factors intrigued me. First, he showed some raw power from a well-conditioned 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame. In addition, Lutz flashed first-step quickness out of the batter's box and on the bases. He runs very well and surprises teams with his ability to steal bases and take an extra base on the outfielders.
Lutz started his career at age 19 in 2008 on Cincinnati's Rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League. Still learning the fundamentals of the game after his late start in Germany, he hit .250 in 120 plate appearances. Ironically, Lutz played the first three seasons of his career on Rookie league teams. The last of the three was playing on Billings in the Pioneer League, where he hit .286.
In 2011, Lutz hit 20 home runs at Class A in the Midwest League. It was a major breakout for the then 22-year-old. Lutz drove in 75 runs.
Lutz advanced in the Reds' system and has completed parts of seven seasons in Minor League baseball. He has played at every level and has compiled a composite batting average of .277 over 1,753 plate appearances in 428 games.
On April 29, 2013, Lutz made his Major League debut for Cincinnati.
Lutz recently missed some development time battling nagging injuries. For example, he missed part of 2012 with an oblique injury. At one point last year when Lutz was playing for Double-A Pensacola, he was hit in the elbow and missed time. Then, a short time later, he broke his index finger when hit by a pitch. In a third injury, Lutz got hit on the wrist. The ball just seems to find him in the left-handed batter's box.
An "offense first" player, Lutz has some excessive bat movement at the plate. He uses an open stance and bobs the bat back and forth in a circular motion while waiting for the pitch. Lutz closes his stance as the pitch arrives. He has very good bat speed and despite predominantly using his pull side, Lutz can take the ball to the opposite field on an outside pitch. He uses what he calls a "helicopter swing" with a big loop at the end. Lutz's hands are very active and play a crucial role in him directing the path of the ball. It seems his lower half plays a secondary role in his hitting mechanics.
Lutz hits well against right-handed pitching, being able to catch up with higher fastballs and cream pitches down in the zone.
I saw Lutz play this season against the Arizona Diamondbacks, getting starts at first base against right-handers. I was again surprised at his athletic ability on defense and on the bases. Lutz has quick reflexes and is not a liability on the field. While his arm strength is a tick below average, his quick hands and feet help him cover his position well.
While I don't think Lutz will ever hit for a high average on a big league club, I do think he can be a helpful utility player to fill in for an injury or come off the bench as a first baseman, outfielder or pinch-hitter.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.