Four years removed from going undrafted out the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Vinny Rottino is knocking at the door of the Major Leagues. A Wisconsin native, Rottino was signed in '03 by the Brewers, and a year later powered his way to several club records for the Midwest League Beloit Snappers.
In addition, he's proven his versatility. Primarily a first baseman early in his career, Rottino is starting at the hot corner this year for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. And making him all the more useful to the Sounds, he can catch. That flexibility, combined with a promising bat, kept him at big league camp this Spring Training until the final day.
We caught up with Vinny before last Thursday's game against the Tacoma Rainiers and talked about the challenges of Triple-A, the strength of the Nashville club, and his goals for the year. Thanks to Joe Hamrahi of Baseball Digest Daily and Doug Scopel of the Nashville Sounds for arranging this interview.
Brew Crew Ball: What the difference between the pitching at Double-A and at Triple-A?
Vinny Rottino: They're a lot better. If they see a weakness they'll exploit it and they'll continue to do that until you prove that you can either make the adjustment and not swing at that pitch, or hit that pitch. In Double-A I think guys are still young and still pitching to their strengths and trying to develop their strengths. And now in Triple-A those strengths, pretty much--they know what they're good at. Now they're trying to see what the hitters weaknesses are and get them out that way.
BCB: What are toughest types of pitchers for you to face?
VR: I have more success against lefties, I'm a righty. Most righties have trouble with guys with real electric stuff, with power arms.
BCB: Have there been any pitchers you've seen this year who have particularly nasty stuff?
VR: There's a guy that the Cubs just called up--Jae Kuk Ryu--he had a couple great games against me, I think I was 0 for both games against him. I faced him last year at AA--his curveball has really gotten very good.
BCB: In regards to your hitting, what are you working on this year?
VR: Just plate discipline, being a smarter hitter. When you're in a good hitters' count, don't chase anything you can't drive. So make sure you get a good swing at a pitch you can drive and basically just becoming a more refined hitter. [As I] get more at bats, I'm starting to do that. Also there are some mechanical things, just, a tendency to like to roll over sometimes with the top hand. I have a real strong top hand, just trying to stay through the ball a little better.
BCB: I know you have a great coaching staff helping you out--who among your teammates are particularly helpful?
VR: Brent Abernathy and Zach Sorensen have been a couple of the older guys who have really helped me out, though they're not much older than I am. Experience-wise, they've been an around the game a lot more years than I've been. They've always got a good answer for anything I ask them about the game.
BCB: What are your goals for this year?
VR: I want to be more consistent with my game. I think I show flashes of being a big league player but then at other times--like any minor league player--you know, ups and downs. So I'm just trying to be a little more consistent with my game.
BCB: You've played with Corey Hart--what can you tell me about him? Do you think he's somebody who could make an impact at the big league level?
VR: Yeah, definitely. Corey has just got natural ability to hit, and he's hit at every level, and there's no reason that he won't be able to hit at the big league level. I think he'll be very productive there. He's just got a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He's got some moving parts in his swing, but you know what, he just puts that barrel of the bat on the ball and hits the ball hard, very consistently. He's got the talent, that's for sure. He's still young, and I think, if he gets the opportunity, he'll be a big league player for a long time.
BCB: Who else on the Nashville team do you think could really contribute in Milwaukee?
VR: A lot of guys. Mike Rivera, he's leading the league in hitting, or close to it, he's one of our catchers. Chris Barnwell, he's playing outstanding at shortstop and he's hitting about .340--he just came out of nowhere. He made some adjustments with his swing and he's just crushing the ball and playing great defense. A guy like Brent Abernathy could go up and help out the team. Obviously, we've got three legitimate outfielders who could play in the big leagues right now. We've got Dave Krynzel, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Nelson Cruz--those names alone, can't ask for any more than that.
BCB: And they're all natural centerfielders, too--that's got to be a great outfield defense.
VR: Yeah, we got a very good outfield. You know, we just got a team, a stacked team. A lot of guys can go up, no matter who they take--and I think that was probably by design, from the front office, to get as many good guys in AAA to help the team out in case something happens. And we're stocked with guys that could do that.
BCB: Thanks for your time, and have a great game!
Tags: Brent Abernathy, Beloit Snappers, Midwest League, Tony Gwynn, Zach Sorensen, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, Chris Barnwell, Tacoma Rainiers, Vinny Rottino, Nashville Sounds