CINCINNATI -- There is a reason why aspiring baseball players, young or old and often unnoticed, flock to open tryout camps held by Major League teams. Maybe, just maybe, they can have a degree of success like outfielder Chris Heisey has had. Heisey, the Reds' 2009 Minor League Player of the Year, is a contender for his first big league job. The club has a vacancy in left field, and the 25-year-old will have a chance to compete for the job at Spring Training next month. "I think right now, subject to changes on the club, he should be a guy that comes to camp with an opportunity along with anyone else competing for that position like [Chris] Dickerson and [Wladimir] Balentien," general manager Walt Jocketty said.
Heisey grew up in Lancaster, Penn., and attended tiny Messiah College in central Pennsylvania. It can easily be said that neither location is known for being baseball factories. The summer after his sophomore year at Messiah, Heisey attended a couple of tryout camps -- one of which was held by the Reds. They were open to anybody with a glove and breathing. "There were some older guys there, 30-35 years old. They were there to have fun," Heisey said. "I really didn't know what to expect. Nothing usually comes out of it, I guess, but I was one lucky enough to open some eyes and get noticed a little bit. "You always dream of it, but when I started at Messiah, I was pretty confident that being at a small school like that wasn't going to get me any exposure. I never thought at that time I was good enough to play professional baseball. I went to the camps with no expectations other than to see what happens." Reds scout Jeff Brookens was watching and found Heisey among the wannabes. In the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, the organization made him a 17th-round pick. A right-handed hitter, Heisey hasn't stopped impressing since. In four Minor League seasons, he's batted .298 with a .369 on-base percentage and stayed consistent with his production after each promotion up the ladder. In 2009 with Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville, Heisey batted .314 with 22 home runs and 77 RBIs over 131 games. "I did better than I expected coming into the year," Heisey said. "I always have high expectations, but I was happy that I did as well as I did. At a new level, I don't have expectations. I just relax and do my best. For whatever reason, it's been able to work for me." After the season, the Reds sent Heisey to play in the Arizona Fall League. He batted .297 with five homers and 14 RBIs against elite Double-A and Triple-A prospects. "The competition there was tremendous," Heisey said. "To have success against some of the top-end prospects from other organizations was good for my confidence. I know I can play against a lot of those guys, some who might be in the big leagues next year." Heisey might be in the big leagues facing those pitchers again, too. The competition for left field appears wide open with the list of candidates largely unproven. Dickerson and Laynce Nix are among the contenders, along with prospects like Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier. "I feel like I'm as close as I can get before going," Heisey said. "Obviously, it's been a dream of mine. To even be this close, I feel blessed to have the opportunities I've had. I couldn't have expected more from where I came from and where I was drafted. Even after my first couple of seasons, it seemed so far away. But now it feels pretty close."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.