Whether with Twins or UNC, Michael will fit in
Minnesota's first-round pick proving value all over Tar Heels' infield
University of North Carolina junior Levi Michael grew up in the small town of Welcome, N.C., attended UNC's baseball camp as a grade-schooler and eventually left high school early to play for the Tar Heels in the 2009 season.
The soft-spoken shortstop's country twang confirms an upbringing in the small-town South, and his steady stream of post-game platitudes and cliches hints that while he'd prefer the spotlight be elsewhere, he's too polite to say so publicly.
Though the Twins' selection of Michael with the 30th pick of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft will likely take him beyond the boundaries of the Tar Heel State that raised him, he is a man accustomed to adjusting on the fly.
In each of his three seasons in Chapel Hill, he has played a different infield position, and each time he has impressed with his ability to shine in the field while hitting from both sides of the plate.
"I think it was a great opportunity for me to be able to play at second, short and third," Michael said. "And now more than anything, I feel comfortable. So I feel like I can go out there anywhere and give you a good effort."
In addition to his third position change in as many years, Michael has been forced to adjust to an injury he suffered when he rolled his left ankle in a game on March 22. The ankle problems later led to a tight hip flexor that has bothered him throughout the season. Instead of taking time off to heal, Michael opted for a rehab routine that calls for him to arrive at the ballpark early for stretching, plunge pools and soft tissue massage therapy.
Michael has missed just two games.
"It's tough playing all season knowing that you're not 100 percent and you can't give your best effort or play at your highest potential," Michael said. "It's been rough, but I feel like I've grinded it out."
While Michael's keen batter's eye and impressive walk rate have allowed him to finish the year fifth in the ACC in on-base percentage (.446) for the second straight season, the injuries seemed to have zapped some of his power. Michael's slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from last year to .455, and his home run total slipped from nine to five.
The injuries have not affected Michael as much in the field, where he has transitioned smoothly into the starting shortstop role from his previous spot at the hot corner.
After setting a preseason goal of committing fewer than 10 errors, Michael has made just eight all season, an achievement UNC coach Mike Fox was pleased to see.
"Our whole team has played great defense, and Levi's been a big part of that," Fox said. "That was the one thing we told him at the start of the year, that we need his feet to be really, really consistent at short. To play shortstop for 60-plus games and have less than 10 errors, that's pretty good."
Though Michael is defensively sound at several positions, his greatest strength is widely thought to be his baserunning. Last season, Michael stole 20 bases, the best mark on his team and eighth-best in the ACC. Though his ankle injury has slowed him down this year, it is not expected to be an issue in the future.
Outside of baserunning, though, Baseball America's Nathan Rode said the rest of Michael's tools are expected to be average at the Major League level. Though Michael's versatility and competence in all aspects of the game bode well for a career as a starting middle infielder, Rode said he doesn't have an outstanding trait to push him to superstardom.
"There's really nothing elite to his game, and that kind of holds him back from being the superstar, high-ceiling player," Rode said. "But, when you look at his skill set, I don't think anyone's going to have any problem with that given what he can already bring to the game."
Though Michael says he is waiting until after UNC's College World Series run to decide whether or not he will sign with the Twins or return to Chapel Hill for his senior season, history suggests he'll settle in fine wherever he winds up.
"I feel like I can do everything well," Michael said. "I play solid defense, I handle the bat pretty good and when I'm healthy, I'm able to run."
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.