ATLANTA—Expectations for 18th-round draft picks are rarely high. Strong early performances, however, can alter perception.
That could be the case with second baseman Ross Heffley, drafted last June following his senior year at Western Carolina, where he compiled the most hits (354) and the highest on-base percentage (.452) in school history.
He reported directly to low Class A Rome and batted .296/.345/.412 in 233 at-bats, joining several newcomers to help the Braves qualify for the South Atlantic League playoffs by winning the Southern Division title in the second half.
"I don't think it could have been a better experience for my first season of pro ball," Heffley said. "It was a great group of guys, with a great coaching staff. I had played at several of the (SAL) fields while I was in college. Everything seemed very familiar to me."
Heffley played solid defense, showing particular dexterity in his ability to make the double-play pivot.
"He hustles, he works, and he wants to get better every day he goes to the park," Rome manager Randy Ingle said. "He can handle the bat and drive the ball. He's a tough ballplayer."
At 5-foot-7, Heffley is familiar with short expectations. He had other options after graduating from a Snellville, Ga., high school, but he made the most of his opportunity at WCU. During his time there, the Catamounts got close but failed to win the conference title.
"Obviously, I would have liked to have won a Southern Conference championship," Heffley said, "but it was still something I wouldn't trade for the world. We played at a very high level while beating teams like Clemson and Georgia.
"I had the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League for two summers."
Atlanta has drafted several college second basemen in recent years, including Phil Gosselin (2010, fifth round) and Tommy La Stella (2011, eighth). Those two, along with Heffley, are grinders who get the most out of their ability, with several scouts believing one or more could work his way to the major leagues.
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