June 7, 2011

UNC shortstop Levi Michael leads Twins’ against-type first-round picks

Hoping the Twins take a college middle infielder while expecting them to pick toolsy high school outfielders and strike-throwing college pitchers has become a pre-draft tradition in this space, so imagine my shock last night when they selected North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael with the 30th overall pick and then went further against the grain in the supplemental round with high school slugger Travis Harrison at No. 50 and high school pitcher Hudson Boyd at No. 55.

Not only is Michael the first college middle infielder selected by the Twins in the first round or supplemental first round since LSU second baseman Todd Walker way back in 1994, they last used a first-round pick on a college hitter of any position for Clemson catcher Matthew LeCroy in 1997. Michael alone represents a radical shift in draft strategy for the Twins and Boyd is also the first high school pitcher they've taken in the first round since Kyle Waldrop in 2004.

As a three-year college starter who figures to move through the system quickly Michael fills an obvious need for the Twins, as they've long struggled to develop middle infielders and are very short on MLB-ready help up the middle right now. Drafting for need is normally a mistake, but in this case he's also considered a clear first-round talent who many mock drafts had coming off the board in the 20-25 range. ESPN pegged him as "the top college shortstop in the class."

Baseball America ranked Michael as the 22nd-best player in the draft, noting that "he's been a reliable defender at all three [infield] spots and scouts are warming up to the idea that he could stay at shortstop at the pro level." He's had a disappointing junior year at the plate after a monster sophomore campaign, but that was partly due to an ankle injury and Michael still hit .297 with a .444 on-base percentage and more walks (47) than strikeouts (41) in 60 games.

Overall in three years as a full-time player at North Carolina the switch-hitting Michael batted .310/.440/.520 with 27 homers, 81 total extra-base hits, and a 123-to-117 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 191 games, stealing 40 bases in 47 attempts and adding to his on-base percentage by leaning into 45 pitches. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN noted that Michael has "solid tools across the board" with "great instincts and no real weaknesses in his game."

There are some questions about his power potential and range, but the Twins did very well to address an obvious area of short- and long-term need with a consensus first-round talent who should move quickly. As a switch-hitting college middle infielder with a strong track record and standout plate discipline Michael is exactly the type of player I've been hoping the Twins would target seemingly every June for the past decade. On paper at least, it's an ideal pick.

Harrison and Boyd are much different picks than Michael, as they're both years from potentially entering the Twins' plans and represent bigger risks along with sizable upsides. Harrison isn't quite as against type for the Twins as Michael or Boyd, but he's the first high school position player they've taken in the first round for his bat more than his tools since Chris Parmelee in 2006. According to Baseball America he "easily rates as the best high school bat" in California.

He's already 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds at 18, so while Harrison played third base in high school he may end up shifting across the diamond or to left field. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com reported during the draft coverage on MLB Network that Harrison has impressive power potential, but there are questions about his approach at the plate. Baseball America's take is similar, noting his "above-average power potential" but also his difficulty "adjusting to breaking balls."

For an organization largely devoid of power-hitting prospects after years of focusing on speed and athleticism in the draft a right-handed-hitting corner infielder with plenty of pop in his bat is certainly a welcome addition and while 50th overall is slightly higher than most projections Harrison is generally ranked as a top-100 player. Twins scouting director Deron Johnson called Harrison "the best bat left on the board" and they'll have to sign him away from USC.

Michael addresses the lack of middle infield depth, Harrison brings some much-needed power, and Boyd is the latest move in the Twins' ongoing effort to add high-velocity arms to a system largely populated by finesse guys. Baseball America compared him to Jonathan Broxton and Bartolo Colon for mid-90s heat as much as a 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame and Jason Churchill of ESPN says Boyd may wind up as a late-inning reliever if his off-speed stuff doesn't develop.

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  • Twinstalker

    I was surprised, too, and also very happy when they took Michael. I was intrigued to see if they’d take Norris, BA’s 16th (?) rated prospect, but Michael was the best pick. Finally. I’m crossing the fingers for a Dustin Pedroia-type journey, but I suppose the Twins will “re-teach” him how to hit.

  • Caleb

    Another thing about batting averages in college comparing ’10 to ’11 is that they changed the bats and hitters across the nation have been griping while pitchers have been loving it. So while hitting .297 in past years may have put you below average, it looks a lot better this year with the new bats.

    BTW I love reading your blog. I’m from Omaha (grandparents live in MN so I adopted the Twins when I was young) so assuming UNC makes the CWS, I’ll make an effort to watch Michael live.

  • mike wants WINS

    I will join the chorus of the surprised. There was a quite a run on college arms before they picked, though. One of the ESPN commenters thought it would take about 2 years for him to be ready. That seems really fast for a Twins’ prospect.

  • TMW

    If we’re talking need, the 2012 Twins look like they’re going to feature Denard Span and Ben Revere in the outfield. I don’t do my homework on the amateurs, but were there no 3-outcome right-handed mashing tree trunks out of college the Twins could put in RF?

  • http://twins.gearupforsports.com/blog/ Steve L.

    I also was very pleasantly surprised by the Twins 1st day draft. After Nimmo and Wong left the board the player I kept coming back to who I thought would be the best pick if there was Levi Michael. Twins have done enough “polished-college-low ceiling” pitcher drafting in the past 5 years that they didn’t need to go that route again, and that’s what was left at that position by their pick. They need Middle-Infielders who can reach the bigs quicker than most, and Michael fits that train of thought.

    Harrison pick surprised me, but in a good way. Interesting quote on him in this scouting report (about his history alongside Bryce Harper): http://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=5539, hopefully they get him signed.

    Don’t know much about Boyd outside of his size and velocity, but a HS-arm with upside is something the Twins need more of.

  • Josh

    I like the Michael pick a lot, and I’m ok with the Harrison risk, but I’m less excited about Boyd. HS pitchers always make me nervous, no matter how good their fastball looks. Conceptually, I’m happy to see them add a power arm to their prospects, I just wish it wasn’t an 18 year-old kid.

    But so far, a solid draft.

  • neil

    What happened to the “Sports Stuff” column of links? Your blog was my preferred hub to the entire world of sports blogging!

  • neil

    Hey, “Sports Stuff” is back; thanks!