Southern League Schooling
Heisey tearing it up in Double-A
ZEBULON, N.C.—Chris Heisey is leading the Double-A Southern League in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. But he just as easily could be leading a classroom of elementary students.
The Reds center fielder went to college thinking that he would never get a chance to play pro baseball—he didn't have any scholarship offers coming out of high school. He chose Division III Messiah (Pa.) College because it would allow him to play basketball and baseball, but he figured his time as a baseball player was running short.
"It was more of a dream than anything," Heisey said. "I always wanted to play pro baseball growing up, but as far as seeming like a reality at that point, heck I didn't get any offers to play at any big schools."
But here he is six years later, leading the SL in most offensive categories while showing solid defense in center field and speed on the basepaths.
If it hadn't been for Reds area scout Jeff Brookens, Heisey's career path was pretty clear. Get his degree, get a teaching job and go about his life. But during the summer before Heisey's junior year, a friend of his on the team convinced him to tag along to some open tryout camps. Heisey went to six or seven of them in the hope that someone would notice him.
Reds camp was his final stop. While there, Heisey did the same running, hitting and throwing he did at ther camps, but this time someone noticed. Brookens went over, said a few words and told him they'd keep in touch.
That winter, Brookens met Heisey's family and gave him a psychological test as preparation for the possibility of drafting him. Heisey was Brookens' guy that year—he was Brookens' favorite prospect in the area when the season began, and he still was when the season ended. He turned him in as a sixth- to eighth-round prospect, but with a notation that he'd last a lot longer because of the lack of other interest.
"He has tools," Brookens said. "He can run. He can throw. He can play defense. When you have strength in your swing and the basics are there, with strength in your hands and forearms, you can use it."
So that was the first step—Heisey had found someone who believed he could be a pro baseball player. But that was only one step.
When it gets later in the draft, it comes down to the area scout believing in a player, and the scouting director and others believing in the area scout. No team can spend much time scouting potential 17th-round picks.
In 2006, scouting director Terry Reynolds, senior director of scouting Chris Buckley and crosschecker Jim Thrift trusted Brookens, so in the 17th round the Reds made the pick.
"For them to say yeah we're going to take the guy, that's what every area scout wants to hear," Brookens said.
Given A Chance
Heisey had his shot at pro ball. He's done everything since then to put his teaching career on hold. He's hit .301/.376/.460 as a pro. Even more impressively, he's gotten better as he's advanced. At Rookie-level Billings in 2006, he was a dead-red fastball hitter who was way too often caught out on his front foot lunging for the ball. Now he stays back as one of the league's most patient hitters—he has 31 strikeouts and 30 walks in his first 252 at-bats this year.
"I think versatility is something you put right next to his name," Carolina hitting coach Ryan Jackson said. "He has speed. He can steal bases. You can throw him in the leadoff spot. You can throw him in the two hole—he's a good contact guy who likes to lay down bunts. You can throw him at three hole. He's selective, he takes his walks, he doesn't strike out much, he'll hit for average."
He's stolen 72 bases in only 86 attempts (84 percent) during his career and he's made it on 12 of his 13 tries this year. But the Reds figure Heisey could steal significantly more if he was willing to take more chances.
"I'm probably too careful with picking my spots, they would say. I'm kind of scared of getting thrown out, so I don't often go unless I'm pretty confident I can make," Heisey said. "Guys who steal 50 or more bases usually get thrown out 10 or more times. I guess if I could work on something, it's on taking more chances on the bases and not caring as much if I get thrown out."
A former 17th-round pick is now worried about being more aggressive on the basepaths. But that's a sign of how far he's come.
"When you look at something like this you say what's his weakness? And no one can say anything that comes off the top of your head," Jackson said. "He covers all facets of the game, and then you get to the hustle part, that's off the charts as well. You'd love to have all your players play as hard as he does."