Votto eager to lead Reds back to contention

Slugger rebounded from slow start in 2016 with monster second half

Votto eager to lead Reds back to contention

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Reds squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's your star?

CINCINNATI -- The best hitter in the Reds lineup and the team's focal point, first baseman Joey Votto, will turn 34 shortly before the end of the 2017 season. For many players, that is the other side of the mountain from the peak of prime years.

But Votto is coming off two renaissance-level seasons offensively, although it was largely out of the spotlight as Cincinnati endured back-to-back last-place finishes with more than 90 losses both years. When the rebuilding Reds do contend again, will Votto still be one of baseball's best with the bat to help them take the next step?

With a full no-trade clause in his contract, which has seven guaranteed years and $179 million remaining, Votto has shown zero desire to be moved. He planned on being around long enough to find out. He will make $25 million this season.

30 stars ready to shine bright in 2017

"I'm looking forward to the team getting better. I'm looking forward to being a part of it," Votto said in December. "I know I have to do everything I can to be a better all-around player so I can keep up with the rest of the guys on the team. Watching both the Indians and the Cubs compete in the World Series this year, you saw almost every different aspect of what makes winning baseball happen. I felt like there are parts of my game, specifically, that I was coming up a bit short on. I'm looking forward to playing with 25 guys that can bring a championship back to Cincinnati.

"The three playoff experiences that I've had were short-lived and disappointing. I'd like another go. I'd like to be part of another go, here."

Outlook: Votto, 1B, CIN

Votto, who also has a $20 million club option for the 2024 season, batted .326/.434/.550 with 29 home runs, 34 doubles and 97 RBIs in 2016. He led the National League in on-base percentage and was second in OPS and walks.

It took quite a comeback for him to get those numbers as Votto was batting .213 on June 1. He posted outrageous second-half numbers, including a .408 average and 1.158 OPS with 15 homers after the All-Star break.

Votto battled left knee injuries in 2012 and '14, with the latter leaving him hobbling to his worst career numbers and a career-low 62 games. He has shown durability the past two seasons, however, with 158 games played in both years.

Known for his work habits and diligence at the plate, Votto put in the time to get better when he was struggling in the first half of the past two seasons. At the same time, the former NL Gold Glove winner saw his defense fade. He has maintained that he planned to put in more time to raise his overall game.

If Votto gets off to a hotter start in 2017 and maintains it, he could be a contender for his second NL Most Valuable Player Award. If he can continue to perform at this level, perhaps it will speed the Reds' return to contention.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.