A Little-Leaguer with big-league potential
You may only have two more chances to watch one of the best all-around Little League players this area has ever seen.
The kid makes better contact with a club in his hands than Tiger Woods. The 12-year-old has so much range at shortstop that he qualifies as a fourth outfielder. His three-pitch command on the mound makes it look like he has the ball at the end of a yo-yo string, tantalizing the hitters with his ability to change speeds. The kid runs the bases like Bennie “The Jet” Rodriguez in “Sandlot.”
If there is a weakness in Otto Trebotich’s game, it might be that he doesn’t play baseball enough.
Otto’s rise in South Lake Tahoe youth baseball hasn’t been overnight.
“I remember when he came to my camp when he was 7 years old and he was this little guy who could play with the big guys,” said former Major League Baseball pitcher Mike Hartley.
This spring, I won Little League’s equivalent of the lottery by being allowed to coach Otto along with his dad, Neal.
After one of my first turns pitching to Otto in the batting cage, I marveled at his ability to make contact with each swing. My journalist instincts soon took over and I asked an obvious question: “Otto, how many times did you strike out last year?”
Following a quick calculation, Otto announced that there was one such occasion.
I shrugged it off as youthful amnesia but as a week of our season quickly passed into a month, I realized Otto wasn’t stretching the truth.
Counting the all-star game I witnessed on Sunday, “Ottomatic” has gone down on strikes only once again this season.
When you watch him take his turn at the plate, you realize why he has an eye-popping successful hitting rate of 75 percent or more. He knows the strike zone and rarely swings at bad pitches. Otto doesn’t rattle easily – when a pitcher gets two strikes on him, he probably is more dangerous.
Otto’s celebrity in the major division was enormous this spring. Prior to pitching against an undefeated and hot-hitting Athletics club early in the season, opposing hitters lined the bullpen to watch Otto throw his 20 warm-up pitches. After they finished their oohs and aahs, Otto preceded to mow down his admirers, allowing only four hits while striking out 13.
Where he really tears up Little League teams, though, is on the bases. Walk him and he’ll soon be dusting off his pants at third base. The Ricky Henderson of Little League must have swiped 75 bases this season.
Opposing catchers must get the urge to ask their managers if they can play the outfield when Otto is on the opposing team. He torments them by leading off halfway between the bases and then dashes to the next base if they are indecisive or are slow chucking the ball back to the pitcher.
“He has such a great feel for the game,” Hartley said. “You can’t teach those instincts and he’s had those instincts since he was small.”
Even when it looks as if Otto is making a base-running blunder, he makes the next base. On Monday in a 14-3 all-star loss to Carson Valley, Trebotich feigned a move to third base and while retreating to second the catcher threw the ball into left field. Otto had the presence to proceed to third base, barely beating the throw from a left fielder who couldn’t have been more than 10 yards away from third base.
This all happened with two outs in the last of the sixth and South Tahoe needing 11 runs to tie. Not exactly comeback baseball, but with Otto’s skills there isn’t any reason to play the percentages.
When Otto isn’t pitching, he plays shortstop so well that he could be Ozzie Smith’s son.
But his humbleness is better than all of his skills put together. He was clearly the league’s best player this season and he didn’t spend baseball’s many idle moments letting everyone know it. The talented youngster also took the time to share some of his baseball knowledge with younger players on the Giants.
I’m just hoping that Otto someday gives baseball all of his attention. There is no telling where he’ll wind up then.
“He has a chance to go on to college to play if he sticks with it,” Hartley said.
I’ll go one step farther and say Otto has the skills to someday play pro baseball.
Otto and the 11- and 12-all-stars will conclude pool play in the district tournament in Reno with 5:30 p.m. games today and Friday.
– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.