Potomac's Jason Vavao said he had given up on a professional baseball career by his sophomore year of college. He was no longer playing for his junior college team, and scouts seemed uninterested in him after high school.
But shortly before the 2001 draft, a Cincinnati scout surprised Vavao with an invitation to a workout and he impressed the Reds enough to be drafted in the 16th round a couple of weeks later.
"It was a hard decision for me to give up on baseball. I thought playing at this level was out of my grasp," said Vavao, a 23-year-old from California. "But when I got that call I knew there was still some hope."
Besides giving him a shot at a pro career, the workout led to a big change for Vavao on the field. Cincinnati's scouts asked him what position he played. He said first base, even though he had played third base or catcher almost his entire career. He had a sore shoulder and didn't want to make any poor throws during his one shot at making the pro ranks, so he told the scouts a bit of a white lie.
Partly because of that first impression, Vavao is still a first baseman in the Reds' organization in his fourth year as a pro.
"There's a lot more to playing first than I thought originally, with all the footwork and the responsibility," Vavao said. "But I'm glad I said I played there, because the position really suits me."
Despite a 6-foot-4 frame that looks prototypical for a corner infielder, Vavao hasn't shown the power often expected from a first base prospect. So far this season, Vavao has hit four home runs for the Cannons, although he is one of the team leaders in slugging percentage (.391). Before this season, he was a career .250 hitter with 14 home runs in 603 at-bats.
"My hitting instructor tells me I need to walk before I can crawl. If I learn to become a solid hitter first, the home runs will come," Vavao said. "I know I have the power to hit the ball out, but I would rather learn to hit better before I start swinging for the fences."