Indians reach deal with top pick

Indians reach deal with top pick

CLEVELAND -- Lonnie Chisenhall had nothing special he'd planned to do with the riches that are afforded a first-round Draft pick.

To Chisenhall, the money meant maybe a new car, nothing more.

Well, maybe it meant one more thing: He could begin his career.

"I don't know why people hold out all summer," said Chisenhall, sitting in the Indians' dugout Saturday with his future assured. "They're missing a lot of time when they could be growing and getting at-bats under their belts."

His at-bats will start this week. The Indians are sending Chisenall, the 29th overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, to short-season Class A Mahoning Valley, said Brad Grant, Indians scouting director.

"For him to be able to start his career right away is definitely an advantage for us and for Lonnie developmentally," Grant said.

Grant would get no argument from the 19-year-old Chisenhall, who said he was ready to begin his pro career after playing the waiting game that a top-shelf prospect must endure.

"At the beginning of the year, I was just trying to get drafted," he said. "To be in the first round, especially with the Indians, I mean, that's just wonderful.

"That's everybody's goal is to get to the first round. That's all I wanted to do since I was little."

Yet his prospects of making the first round, despite his enormous gifts, were not certain. For Chisenhall, a third baseman at Pitt (N.C.) Community College, went into the 2008 Draft with enough baggage to fill a semi-trailer.

In March 2007, he was kicked off the University of South Carolina baseball team after he was arrested and charged with burglary and grand larceny. He pleaded guilty to the charges and received six months' probation, which ends Aug. 6.

"I've grown," he said. "I've paid what I needed to, and I'm just looking toward the future. I'm going to work from there."

He admitted that his brush with justice forced him to do some soul searching. He saw it as a hard lesson to learn, but his misstep has taught him plenty -- about himself and about life.

"It taught me to be smarter," he said. "I've grown a lot and learned a lot from what I've done as far as what I put my family and everybody else through.

"I watch my steps closer."

His legal problems did scare some teams away, though. It didn't scare away the Indians, Grant said. They did background checks, and they had face-to-face meetings with Chisenhall before the Draft to make the sure the arrest was a one-time incident.

"We've gone above and beyond doing our research," Grant said after the Tribe drafted Chisenhall. "We very much value makeup; we very much value character. Every person that we talked to spoke very highly about Lonnie's character."

Everybody also speak highly of Chisenhall's left-handed bat.

People who'd scouted Chisenhall, who signed for $1.2 million, called him a disciplined hitter with the potential to develop power. He described himself as a gap-to-gap hitter.

"The bat is a No. 1 tool," Grant said. "His bat is ahead of his power right now. He's a very disciplined hitter; he's got a very patient approach."

In an organization short on top-flight position players, Chisenhall will get plenty of scrutiny. He's played a lot of shortstop in his college career, but the Indians have him penciled in at third base.

Could he be on the fast track to the Majors?

Maybe, but the fastest way to the Majors is to prove something in the Minors first, which his speedy signing will allow Chisenhall to do.

On Sunday, he'll head out to Mahoning Valley, a team former Indians third baseman Travis Fryman now manages. His season begins June 19.

"I'm ready to get out there and play," Chisenhall said. "I've been sitting around for about a month."

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.