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2011 Draft Profile: Levi Michael

The Rule 4 draft is less than two weeks away, and I wanted to start throwing some scouting reports out there for guys who the Mets could be targeting with the 13th overall selection. We’ll start with a guy Peter Gammons recently mentioned as a target for Chad MacDonald, who will be entering his first season as the Mets’ scouting director. It’s no secret that I was never a big fan of former director Rudy Terrasas’s drafts, so I’m especially eager to see whether a new regime means a change in draft philosophy.

Levi Michael

Position: Shortstop
School: North Carolina
Level: Junior
Birth Date: 2/9/91
Height: 5-10
Weight: 180 lbs.
Throws: Right
Bats: Both

2009 65 262 76 15 4 13 5 4 26 56 .290 .382 .527
2010 60 214 74 14 4 9 20 2 44 26 .346 .484 .575
2011 55 200 61 12 3 4 14 1 46 34 .305 .456 .455

Why you should celebrate if the Mets take him: He’s a very safe pick to reach the majors in some capacity. He’s not a pitcher. He’s a good athlete. He plays a premium defensive position in college, and he plays it well. He’s a very polished hitter with a track record of success in a pretty difficult conference.

Let’s start at the plate. Michael is a smooth hitter, with a very simple line drive stroke. He has excellent batspeed, which allows him to wait as long as possible before swinging, enabling him to make last-minute adjustments while also ensuring that the barrel of the bat is in the best possible position for driving the ball at contact. He’s a switch hitter who looks comfortable swinging from both sides of the plate, though he does have a tad more pull power from the right side. Either way, I’m not expecting a huge platoon split. Best of all: he has an outstanding approach at the plate. Some players are patient in that they’ll take walks if they’re offered; Michael takes it a step further by working them. We’re talking about a guy capable of hitting .300 with a .400 on-base percentage, and one who should move quickly through the minors.

In the field, his actions are very smooth. He positions himself well, has good hands, and just looks fluid—many college infielders look choppy fielding ground balls, almost like they have to remain conscious of each action to prevent fielding flubs. There’s none of that with Michael, who looks like a natural infielder. And the arm isn’t plus, but it’s more than enough to do the job at short. On the bases, he has above average speed, and he’s a smart base runner.

Why you should hope the Mets call someone else’s name: He’s a very safe pick. There isn’t as much upside here as there will be with some other options that may be available to the team with the 13th pick. It’s an outstanding draft class, and there is enough star talent that someone with more talent should be sitting there.

His speed is above average, but that’s all it means, and an ankle injury this spring has inhibited that enough where it’s been noticeable, both on the field and on the bases. On the field, his actions look great, but without top-notch speed, or really anything close to it, his range suffers. Many scouts don’t think he’s a pro shortstop, especially once he ages. As he gets bigger and slower, there’s no way he’s going to have the mobility required of a major league shortstop.

Also, while I can’t bash his ability to hit for contact or his patience, I can bash his power. He’s not a huge guy with long arms, so he’s not going to be able to leverage pitches over the wall. Furthermore, he doesn’t have a big load before he swings—he brings his hands slightly back but it’s not a big windup—nor does he have a swing that will produce a lot of loft. He’s strong enough and his bat is quick enough that he will have occasional pop (probably 10–15 homers a year) but for the most part we’re talking gap power, not home run power.

So we’re talking a player who will end up at third or second, who doesn’t have a lot of speed, and who won’t hit for power. Not a useless player by any measure but probably not a star, either.

What I think: I like Levi Michael. He’s not going to hit 30 homers in a season, and he’s not an elite top-of-the-order hitter with tons of speed, either. He’s a capable middle infielder who will get on base reliably. I do think he has enough defense to stick at short—the ankle injury isn’t too bad, and he’s a good enough athlete to last there. I’m not sure he’ll stick at short for more than five years, but I think he can reach the big leagues as a shortstop.

People always ask for comps so I’ll provide a couple. Best-case scenario? Michael Young: poor defense at short but a great contact bat with some patience thrown in. Middling case? Mark Ellis: good defense at second, so-so bat with no speed or pop.

Is he worth the Mets’ pick? I won’t be upset if they do land him, but I’d prefer someone else with a little more star potential. It’s a weak year for college bats (despite being a strong year for everything else), and I think Michael has benefited from a lack of polished middle infield options, and there are just too many questions about his defense for my taste. The pick would earn a B- from me.