While others soak up the slow pace of spring training, knowing there’s still at least seven full months of work remaining, former Dayton Dragon Donald Lutz is looking for more during his second exhibition go-round with the Cincinnati Reds.
More reps in the field. More swings in the cage.
Lutz, who grew up 90 miles south of Munich, Germany, didn’t start playing the game until he was 16. Now he’s doing everything he can to make up for lost time, and that includes off-the-field hobbies.
“It’s basically all new to me. I never went through high school and college with baseball, so everything is new and exciting. Whatever has to do with baseball, I’m doing it,” Lutz said on Tuesday. “If I’m sitting at home, I can watch games on MLB-TV 24-7. I play on Playstation and my friends are like, ‘don’t you get tired of it?’ I tell them no way, I love it. It’s awesome. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
At 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds — he’s down about 15 pounds from last year — the Reds are happy to oblige him with extra work. His breakout year came in Dayton two summers ago, when he posted top-10 Midwest League numbers in batting average, runs scored and total bases. His 20 homers put him firmly on the organization’s radar.
Reds manager Dusty Baker said he sees Lutz climbing quickly through a talent-rich minor league system.
“I like big Lutz. He’s very talented. He’s very raw,” Baker said. “He’s coming fast. I like what I see. I like his speed for a big man. He works hard in the outfield and in batting practice.”
Against the Padres on Tuesday, Lutz started in left field and batted fifth, knocking a single to right field in the second inning for the team’s first hit. He’s likely to see plenty of work in spring training, thanks to an extended schedule due to the World Baseball Classic. Lutz hit .320 in 25 at-bats last spring, including a pair of homers.
“It shows me they see something good in me and they’re behind me and support me,” he said. “I really appreciate getting a lot of at-bats. They take care of me coaching-wise.”
Lutz still looks fondly on his year in Dayton, where he got 465 at-bats, not to mention plenty of help.
“It was a great year. That’s when I figured out a lot at the plate, hitting-wise. I understood how my body works where before I really didn’t have a game plan. I just went up there, swinging a bat,” Lutz said. “I feel like a matured a little bit as a hitter in Dayton. I got a little more experience and some great coaching. Alex Pelaez, Delino DeShields, they took me in the cage every day and it’s paid off.”
Last season, Lutz pounded out 22 homers between Single-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, although his average dipped from his season in Dayton. He insists it’s all part of the process.
“I know I can hit, but I’ve got to slow everything down. I need to go up there with an approach instead of just trying to hit everything out of the park,” Lutz said. “I’ve got to realize that I don’t have to use my whole body and swing as hard as I can to get it out. I’ve got to use the whole field and become consistent.”