"I'm always trying to learn from him. He's really good about it. I was like, 'Wow, I can't believe he's so open.' He's a great teacher. He's always been like, 'You have to do this,' or 'Get here on time, wear your uniform the right way,' -- all of those things that go a long way."Why would Votto help the guy seeking his job? For starters, he doesn't view there to be an awkward situation, or even a situation, that should draw attention. He's just one teammate helping another. "He's trying to do his job and I'm trying to do mine," Votto said. "There are 30 teams and tons of first basemen. Obviously, I want to play for the Reds and he wants to play for the Reds. We've got time. He's not in the Major Leagues yet. Hopefully he will get there. When he does, that's when we'll figure it out. Right now, I treat everybody the exact same way. Nobody gets different treatment." Getting comfortable Because he signed late in the summer of 2008, Alonso was limited to six games at Class A Sarasota that season. His first full professional year came last season, and it was an advanced learning experience. Alonso started at high Class A again and reached Double-A Carolina, hitting a combined .300 with nine home runs, 52 RBIs, a .374 on-base percentage and a .464 slugging percentage. In June, he missed two months on Carolina's disabled list after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand, which required surgery to fix. The lost at-bats were made up at the end of the year. Alonso played five games in the playoffs for Triple-A Louisville and then moved on to the Arizona Fall League before going to winter ball. "I definitely feel a lot better than last year," Alonso said. "Last year, everything was new. It was frustrating even with the guys or on the field and how they play. It was hard. Maybe last year I didn't take as many risks. This year, I'll be like, 'Let's go for it,' like I did in college." Inside the Reds' clubhouse last spring, Alonso largely kept to himself and tried very hard not to make much noise. He was guarded during media interviews and careful not to be controversial. The difference is obvious to any Alonso observers during this camp. He's seems more comfortable in his own skin, more willing to talk and very easygoing. Friendships have been formed throughout the room, especially within the large Latin, Spanish-speaking contingent. When there is a group gathered talking and laughing, Alonso is often right in the middle of it. "Last year, I was probably at my locker 95 percent of the time," Alonso said. "This year, I'm hanging out with the guys more. The guys call me and we hang out, especially the Latin guys. My mom is in town and she'll make Latin food and they'll say, 'Hey, bring me some.' It's a good conversation starter. You just get in there and talk about food. We talk about other things, and before you know it, we're talking about baseball. I'm getting to know the guys and learning from the guys. It's good." How will this turn out? If Alonso is more at ease with himself, it's not a leap to believe he could be even more comfortable in the batter's box. That could make life harder on opposing pitchers, which in turn could make a decision harder for the Reds' front office about what to do with this gifted hitter -- especially if Votto isn't being relocated to another spot. Coming into this season, Alonso was ranked the organization's No. 2 prospect by Baseball America and No. 30 in the game overall by MLB.com. The Reds have only two true first basemen in camp -- Votto and Alonso. It's likely that Alonso will see time as the designated hitter during spring games. "I remember coming up as a kid when [the Giants] had Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda on the same team," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Both of them are in the Hall of Fame. They ended up moving one of them to the outfield." True, but after several years, Cepeda was traded by San Francisco. There was a time in the early 1970s when the Reds had two good young first basemen in Tony Perez and Lee May on the roster. Eventually, May was traded to the Astros in the deal that brought Joe Morgan. "That's what happens. You hope not," Baker said. "The options are pretty good if and when that time comes." One way or another, Alonso's time in the Majors is right around the corner.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.