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Hitting coach can easily relate to 51s’ most touted prospects

Drafted one spot ahead of Derek Jeter in 1992, slugging outfielder Chad Mottola never emerged as the impact player the Reds envisioned when they made him the fifth overall pick.

Despite descending from prospect to a virtual career minor leaguer, the 51s hitting coach isn’t bitter about his pro baseball experience.

"I wanted some more big league time, obviously, but the way it all shook out, I don’t have any regrets," said the 39-year-old, who played 59 games in the majors and 1,801 in the minors during a 16-year career. "It’s an advantage to me coaching now that I can understand what (the players are) feeling or what’s expected of them a little sooner."

Mottola especially can relate to the 51s’ five former first-round draft picks: outfielders Adam Loewen (No. 4 overall, Orioles, 2002) and Travis Snider (No. 14, Blue Jays, 2006), third baseman Brett Lawrie (No. 16, Brewers, 2008) and pitchers Chad Cordero (No. 20, Expos, 2003) and Brett Cecil (No. 38, Blue Jays, 2007).

First baseman David Cooper, another first-round pick (No. 17, Blue Jays, 2008), started the season with Las Vegas but was called up Thursday to Toronto.

"I relate to them a little more in the sense that (general managers) or the coaches always want to look right on these (high) draft picks, so they’re maybe pressed into certain situations a little too soon," Mottola said. "They understand that I understand what they’re going through."

Mottola, who Cincinnati selected instead of Jeter because it already had shortstop Barry Larkin, made his major league debut for the Reds in 1996, batting .215 in 35 games.

But he played in only 24 more big league games, over four seasons, despite earning International League Most Valuable Player honors in 2000 and belting 239 home runs in the minors.

"I figured it out later in my career," he said. "I played my last 10 years really to have fun, and I understood a lot more about baseball than I did at the beginning."

The beginning of a player’s career is typically a carefree time, particularly on draft day, which Cecil, 24, said was one of the best moments of his life — No. 6, to be exact.

"It probably goes my son (being born), being married, big league debut, big league win, pitching at Yankee Stadium and (getting drafted)," said the left-hander, a 15-game winner for Toronto last year who was demoted to Las Vegas on April 24 after struggling with the Blue Jays.

The excitement and optimism continues for players as they start their climb through the minor league ranks.

But pressure to live up to lofty expectations can sidetrack even the most talented players, such as Snider, who has split time between the majors and minors in each of the past four seasons.

"As you move forward and get closer to the big league level, that was where, for me, mentally, you want to be there so quickly instead of understanding there’s a process," the 23-year-old said. "Whether you’re on the fast track or not, there’s still some things you have to go through from a development standpoint.

"I think that’s what I’m still going through today, part of finalizing that development to hopefully sticking as a major leaguer every day."

Snider was sent down to Las Vegas on Thursday after batting .184 in 25 games this year for Toronto. He’s batting .246 overall for the Blue Jays with 26 homers and 86 RBIs in 208 games.

Loewen, 27, was 18 when he became Canada’s highest-drafted player. He said all the attention overwhelmed him.

"I was a pretty shy kid," he said, "so I didn’t like it at all."

Loewen, who pitched for the Orioles before injuries prompted him to attempt a comeback as a position player, also put a lot of pressure on himself early in his career. "I thought I had to move up and be there at a certain time," he said. "Now I look back on it, and it’s really not like that. You progress at your own pace."

Lawrie, 21, who is batting .357 for the 51s (11-15) in his first Triple-A season, said he has always embraced pressure.

"The pressure was always there. But I enjoy it. I think I thrive on it, more or less," he said. "It’s what kind of keeps me going, the kind of thing that makes me better, always having that extra edge."

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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