Indians decide infielder worth the risk
After evaluation, Tribe satisfied with Chisenhall's character
With 28 other teams drafting ahead of him, Indians director of scouting Brad Grant wasn't sure who would be available when he selected for Cleveland on Thursday in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. But Grant was pleasantly surprised to see the guy he wanted still on the board when his turn came up.
With the 29th overall pick, their first of six picks Thursday, the Indians drafted Lonnie Chisenhall, a third baseman from Pitt (N.C.) Community College.
"This was the best player available," Grant said. "Lonnie's been a guy that we've had targeted from the beginning. Picking at 29, it's really difficult to know who's going to be there. There were no surprises above him, [and] he was the best talent on the board at 29."
Chisenhall, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who bats left and throws right, was drafted in the 12th round by the Pirates as a high school senior in 2006. He chose to attend the University of South Carolina instead, where he usually hit third for the Gamecocks and earned a reputation as one of the best hitters in the nation. But an incident that led to Chisenhall's arrest on burglary and larceny charges caused his dismissal from the team. He later transferred to Pitt C.C.
The Indians have done their due diligence on Chisenhall and are convinced that his problems are behind him.
"We truly believe it was a one-time mistake, he was in the wrong spot at the wrong time," Grant said. "We believe he's learned from it and moved on. At 19 [years old], he has two years of college experience, and with that incident, a lot of maturity."
Grant spent plenty of face time with Chisenhall to make sure. So did Indians northeast crosschecker Scott Meaney. The Indians had Dr. Charles Maher, the team's sports psychologist and director of psychological services, meet with Chisenhall. Cleveland's assistant general manager, John Mirabelli, knows Chisenhall's high school coach very well. Area scout Bob Mayer has known Chisenhall since his junior year in high school.
The Indians pored over all the evaluations before making their decision. The end result was a very thorough background check, which Chisenhall obviously aced.
"We've gone above and beyond doing our research," Grant said. "We very much value makeup; we very much value character. Every person that we talked to spoke very highly about Lonnie's character."
|"We've gone above and beyond doing our research. We very much value makeup; we very much value character. Every person that we talked to spoke very highly about Lonnie's character."|
|-- scouting director Brad Grant|
"The bat is a No. 1 tool, his bat is ahead of his power right now," Grant said. "He's a very disciplined hitter; he's got a very patient approach. Right now, he's more of a line-drive, gap hitter, and as he continues to mature, he'll develop power."
Grant doesn't anticipate any problems with signability.
"We're pretty confident we're going to get Lonnie signed," Grant said. "He's excited about the opportunity to be a Cleveland Indian."
The Indians took Otha "Li'l Catch" Bailey in the draft of former Negro League players. Bailey, a pint-sized catcher with good speed but no power, broke into the Negro Leagues in 1950 when he was 20. A scrappy ballplayer, Bailey prided himself on calling a good game. He stayed with various teams until '59.
After Chisenhall, the Indians selected pitchers with three of their next five picks, including one high school and two collegiate pitchers. The other two picks were used to draft college infielders.
Grant said taking five college players on the first day out of six choices reflected the strength of this year's Draft.
In the second round, 76th overall, the Indians chose Trey Haley, a 17-year-old right-handed pitcher from Central Heights High School in east Texas, the same neck of the woods as Boston's Clay Buchholz.
Indians' top five selections
|29.||RHP||Lonnie Chisenhall||Pitt CC|
|76.||RHP||Trey Haley||Central Heights HS (Texas)|
|107.||2B||Robert Phelps||Stanford U|
|141.||RHP||David Roberts||Cal St Long Beach|
|171.||RHP||Steven Putnam||U of Michigan|
|Complete Indians Draft results >|
Haley, who has committed to attend Rice University in Houston next fall, has a fastball that tops out at 95 miles per hour and a curveball that has been clocked as high as 82 mph.
"Haley's an exceptional high school right-hander, he's got a chance to have two plus pitches in the future," Grant said. "He's a big strong kid, going to fill out. We felt very fortunate to be able to get Haley."
Haley's letter of intent to attend Rice is an obstacle, but Grant said the Indians wouldn't have used a second-round pick on the pitcher if they didn't think they could sign him.
"Like any other negotiation, it's going to be a process," Grant said.
In the third round, 107th overall, the Indians selected switch-hitting second baseman Robert "Cord" Phelps of Stanford University.
"His power has really developed this year," Grant said. "This was a chance to add an offensive, switch-hitting second baseman with some power."
California State-Long Beach right-hander David Roberts went to the Indians in the fourth round, 141st overall.
"He's a 6-3, 220-pound pitcher with a plus fastball who was used in the bullpen at Long Beach," Grant said. "We'll look at him as a starter, long-term wise he may end up back in the bullpen."
Right-hander Steven Putnam of Michigan was Cleveland's choice in the fifth round, 171st overall. Phelps often served as the Wolverines' designated hitter.
"We like him better as a pitcher," Grant said. "He's big, strong, [and has a] plus fastball, curveball, slider, changeup and split -- five pitches."
The Indians spent their sixth-round pick (201st overall) on Jeremie Tice, a third baseman from the College of Charleston (S.C.). Grant said Tice had a huge year offensively.
Grant was pleased with Cleveland's first-day results, especially since he was picking next to last in each round.
"There were some disappointments, in the second round we had four players and lost all four within five picks," he said. "That's what you're dealing with, but the players we got, we were very happy to get."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.