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Caught in a draft

Mitchell Lambson, K.C. Wiser and Tanner Kichler plot their paths after being picked in the Major League Baseball draft
by: courtesy of Tri-City ValleyCats MINOR SENSATION — Tualatin graduate Mitchell Lambson delivers a pitch for the Tri-City ValleyCats.

Mitchell Lambson isn't quite sure what a ValleyCat is.

But he's happy to be one.

K.C. Wiser was a basketball star at Linfield College. But now he's got a 100-percent baseball mindset.

He's pretty happy about that.

Tanner Kichler spent the early part of this week moving into his dorm room down in California.

He, too, is pretty darn happy.

In addition to each having some high spirits these days, Lambson, Wiser and Kichler have something else in common.

They were each selected in June's Major League Baseball amateur draft.

And while they've taken separate paths since June's draft, Lambson, Wiser and Kichler each seem to be thrilled with their present situation and are brimming with hope and optimism for the future.

'This is pretty cool,' Lambson said on Tuesday, when he was in Troy, N.Y. getting ready for the Tri-City ValleyCats' New York-Penn League game with the Brooklyn Cyclones. 'Playing Major League baseball has been a lifelong dream and this is another step toward this goal.'

Lambson, a 2008 Tualatin High School graduate and a left-handed pitcher, was drafted in the 19th round of June's MLB draft by the Houston Astros. It didn't take long for him to sign with the Houston organization.

'It's something I've been working for a long time now,' he said. 'My family was there when I signed. It was really special.'

Wiser, a 2007 Tigard High School graduate, made quite a mark during his stay at Linfield College - as a basketball player.

This past season, the 6-foot-8 Wiser was a Division III All-American honorable mention pick. He led the Northwest Conference with a 23.1 scoring average while also pulling down a conference-best 8.2 rebounds a game.

Oh yeah, Wiser also was part of the Linfield College baseball team as a pitcher, but injuries took their toll on his collegiate baseball career. He underwent Tommy John surgery and 2009 and just returned to the mound this past spring for the Wildcats.

In his senior season, he pitched just six and two-thirds innings for Linfield, striking out six and walking 10.

But somebody saw some potential in the tall right-hander. Those some bodies were the Texas Rangers, who selected Wiser in the 50th round of the draft.

'I'm pretty happy,' Wiser said Monday from down in Surprise, Ariz. 'I was hoping I'd get drafted, and it's really exciting that it happened.'

Kichler, a 2011 Sherwood High School graduate who helped lead the Bowmen baseball team to the 2011 Class 5A state championship, was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 45th round of June's draft.

But Kichler, a 6-5 hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, had options.

He had already signed a national letter of intent to play college baseball at St. Mary's College, located in Moraga, Calif.

He decided not to sign with the Cubs, opting instead to play college baseball at St. Mary's.

'It was a family decision,' Kichler said. 'And, talking with the scouts, I think this is better for me. I'm going to work hard and continue to get better.'

Ready to move on

Like Kichler, Lambson also had a decision to make.

He had just completed the junior year of a storied college baseball career pitching for Arizona State University.

Lambson, a left-handed pitcher, pitched in two College World Series for the Sun Devils. As a sophomore, he was a first-team All-Pacific 10 Conference selection. He was an honorable-mention all-conference pick as a junior.

He was one of only three ASU pitchers to have more than 20 career wins and more than 10 career saves. He is also one of just three Sun Devil pitchers to have more than 100 career appearances.

It's doubtful that anyone could really blame him if he stayed for his senior year at Arizona State, especially since his younger brother, Mark, is also part of the ASU baseball team.

'It was a tough decision,' Lambson said of signing with the Astros. 'But everything pointed me in this direction. I was ready to move on. I'm happy with my decision, but I'll miss ASU.'

After signing with Houston, Lambson was assigned to the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Class A short-season New York-Penn League.

'I'm not really sure what a ValleyCat is,' Lambson said with a laugh. 'But we have a pretty cool mascot.'

Through Tuesday, Lambson had pitched in 18 games for the ValleyCats, all in relief.

He has a 3.49 earned-run average with 27 strikeouts and just six walks in 28 innings pitched.

'So far, so good,' Lambson said. 'The coaches here are really involved. They're taking good care of myself and the other pitchers. We have good crowds and the level of play is good. It's comparable to what I faced in college. I've played against some of my ex-teammates here. It's challenging and I'm working hard.'

But Lambson doesn't mind the hard work - because he's living a dream.

'I'm playing pro ball, and that's pretty cool,' he said. 'When I was in Tualatin, this seemed like it was a long way off. I know this is a business now, but it's still just a game of baseball and I'm having a lot of fun.'

Feeling the heat

Wiser, after being drafted, was assigned to the Arizona League Rangers, a rookie-league team based in Surprise, Ariz.

'I didn't know if I'd get drafted,' he said. 'If I didn't, I'd pursue something in basketball - but here I am.'

And where he was at, exactly, was the team motel, located just three blocks from Surprise Stadium, where the team plays its games.

'We've got the whole fourth floor,' Wiser said. 'I spent the first couple of days down here getting acclimated to the heat. It gets up to 112 degrees down here.'

In addition to getting used to the heat, Wiser also has to get used to the thought that baseball, not basketball, is his future.

'It's been a total life-plan change,' he said. 'But it's been going OK. It's been a great experience. It would be tough not to have a good time.'

Wiser, lacking the extensive college baseball experience that Lambson has, is relying heavily on his pitching coaches, Ryan O'Malley, who used to pitch for the Chicago Cubs, and Oscar Marin.

'Ryan brings a lot of experience and knowledge,' Wiser said. 'And Oscar is great to talk to. Between them, they have a lot of years of experience.'

Through Tuesday, Wiser has pitched in seven games for the AZL Rangers. He's given up five runs while striking out five and walking six in six and two-thirds innings on the mound.

But, for right now, learning and improving is more important than stats for Wiser.

'Baseball is at a totally different level here,' he said. 'I've learned that trying to throw an overpowering pitch every time is not the main thing. Precision is big. I'm really happy with how things are going. I hope they see me as a project.'

College calling

For Kichler, while he decided to play college baseball, there still was something special to being drafted coming out of high school.

'It's always been a dream of mine to get drafted,' he said. 'That felt pretty good. Hopefully, I'll put in three good years here and get drafted higher.'

And, like Lambson and Wiser in the minor leagues, Kichler is striving to improve.

'That's what I'm working for,' he said. 'I want to get better every year. I know that, in college, I'm going to have to throw strikes and keep the ball down in the zone. And I'm going to have to mix it up.'

You can here the excitement in Kichler's voice as he talks about pitching at the college level.

'I'm really looking forward to it,' he said. 'It's going to be a lot of fun.'

Fun, and, for the three standout pitchers, there's also the promise of a bright future.

'It's always been my dream to play Major League Baseball,' said Lambson, who said he remembered Wiser from his days at Tigard.

'I want to go as far as I can,' Wiser said.

And, maybe, just maybe, there might be a Tigard-Tualatin pitching match-up in some major league park in the future.

'That would be pretty cool,' Lambson said.

*****

Ty Morrison, a 2008 Tigard High School graduate, is continuing his minor league baseball career after being chosen in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Morrison, an outfielder playing for Charlotte Stone Crabs of the Class A Florida State League, is hitting for a .277 batting average with 59 hits with 213 at-bats.

Morrison also has 28 runs scored, seven doubles, two triples, 16 RBI and 17 stolen bases.