Twins opt for North Carolina shortstop in a pitcher-rich draft

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 7, 2011 - 12:53 PM

The University of North Carolina's Levi Michael has played several infield positions for the Tar Heels.

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North Carolina's short stop Levi Michael

Photo: Robert Willett, Associated Press

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It was the year of the pitcher in baseball's draft, but with their lowest first pick ever, Twins could only watch, wait, and cross off names.

And when their turn finally came, they declined to follow the crowd. "We changed things up," scouting director Deron Johnson said, by selecting an infielder: University of North Carolina shortstop Levi Michael.

"I was super-surprised," when the Twins called his name, the 20-year-old North Carolinian said -- and he wasn't the only one.

"Maybe this was nice -- people think we take high school athletes and college pitchers," Johnson said, and with good reason. Not since they chose Travis Lee in 1996 have the Twins used their first pick on a collegiate position player. But with a near-record 19 pitchers grabbed in the first round, the Twins, with no picks until No. 30, decided to address another problem position in the organization: middle infield.

"He's an athletic shortstop. He played with a sore hip flexor and a sore ankle probably the last month and a half of the year, and really grinded it out," Johnson said of Michael, a switch hitter who batted .297 this season and owns 27 home runs and 159 RBI in his Tar Heels career. "That showed the kind of makeup he has."

The Twins went with another infielder, Tustin (Calif.) High third baseman Travis Harrison, with the No. 50 pick in the sandwich round (compensation for losing free agent Orlando Hudson), then finally added a pitcher -- and a familiar one -- with its final pick of the day. Hudson Boyd, a righthander from Fort Myers, Fla., who once attended high school across the street from the Twins' spring training complex, was taken with the 55th pick, compensation for losing Jesse Crain.

"They were in my back yard, so me and my buds snuck into their minor-league field, because we didn't want to pay for tickets," said Boyd, who finished his high school career at Bishop Verot, a few miles away. The righthander, clocked at 96 miles per hour during a game in which he struck out 15 hitters, is committed to Florida this fall, but Johnson said the Twins are confident he will sign.

Same for Harrison, described by Johnson as having "a chance to be a Matt Williams type" of slugger, who is committed to USC.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet," said Harrison, who once hit a batting-practice pitch 504 feet in Tropicana Field, "but if we come to agreement here, I'll be stoked."

The Twins were equally happy with their haul, especially with an athlete as versatile as Michael, who played second base for North Carolina as a freshman, third base as a sophomore and shortstop -- where Johnson and his staff project him -- as a junior.

"He's got really good defensive skills, lateral quickness, range in both directions. He's a plus runner, which a lot of guys didn't see because of the leg injury," Johnson said. "He's not a slap hitter. He's got some strength."

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