Javelinas' Lutz becoming fluent with his bat
Reds first base prospect slugs way to AFL Player of the Week honors
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There is this dream that Donald Lutz has of playing first base for the Cincinnati Reds.
And there is the reality: earlier this year, the Reds signed incumbent first baseman Joey Votto, the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2010, to a 10-year, $225 million contract extension. Barring serious injury, Votto isn't going anywhere.
That won't, however, keep Lutz from trying to reach the Major Leagues whether it's with the Reds or not, or whether it's as a first baseman or not.
He is keeping the conversation going, swinging a hot bat early in the 2012 Arizona Fall League for the Peoria Javelinas. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Lutz has been named the AFL's Player of the Week for Week 2.
He is joined by his Peoria teammate, Kyle Gibson (Minnesota Twins), who has been selected as the AFL's Pitcher of the Week.
Lutz, 23, led the AFL in hitting (.556), hits (10), slugging percentage (.833) and total bases, tied for the lead in runs scored (five) and tied for second in extra-base hits (three) last week.
Most of Lutz's teammates have been playing baseball since they began to walk. Lutz has played only since about age 16.
He was born in Watertown, N.Y., but moved to Germany with his mother when he was 1 year old. They put down roots in a town south of Munich, where he went to school and played hockey and soccer. Lutz played in a German baseball academy, on the German National youth team and in the Major League European Academy in Italy. The Reds signed him a little before he turned 18.
"It was all really new to me. I didn't really know about getting signed. I have played a few years now, but I am still learning about the game and the history," he said.
He played a combined 105 games for three rookie-level teams from 2007-09, went to Class A Dayton in 2010 and played for three teams in 2012 -- the Reds of the Arizona Rookie League, Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
The left-handed-hitting Lutz was doing well at Bakersfield, hitting .265 in 63 games with 18 doubles, three triples, 17 home runs and 51 RBIs. Then he strained an oblique muscle in July while swinging, and that put a halt to everything.
"I was out for almost a month," he said. "I came out here [to the Reds' facility in Goodyear, Ariz.] for some rehab, icing it and doing very little. That kind of injury hurts with every movement. It was boring. I played in some rehab games, but my timing was completely off."
His swing finally came back, and now he is his old self again, swinging with the help of Javelinas hitting coach Alex Pelaez, who has been a Minor League hitting coach for the Reds since 2009 and has worked with Lutz previously.
"I feel good. I'm seeing the ball well. Alex knows me better than anybody," Lutz said. "He's getting me back in the groove."
When Lutz returned to the United States, there wasn't much of a communication problem because he spoke English as required by German schools. "I had a thick accent, but at least I could understand people. Now I have lost most of it," he said.
He played about half of his 2012 season at first base and half in left field. Through Monday, he had played one game in left for Peoria, a couple at designated hitter and the rest at first base.
"I try to take grounders at first and do some outfield work," he said. "I know the situation with Votto and so I don't mind playing left. In fact, it's kind of fun. The more I play it, the more comfortable I get, you know, chasing down balls in the gap and robbing guys of a hit."
Lutz also knows the main reason he is here is because of his bat. He is hitting .277 in his brief career, with 51 homers and 203 RBIs.
"I'm off to a good start out here," he said. "I am being aggressive and putting good swings on the pitches. Some people say I am a power hitter, but I like to say I do a little of everything, hit for average, spread the field. I don't want to be considered a pull guy.
"Playing in this league has been a great experience so far. We have a good group of guys on this team with good chemistry. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next."
Don Ketchum is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.