Sometimes, opportunity requires sacrifice.
When Levi Michael had the chance to get a head start on his collegiate career by graduating high school a semester early, he seized it. But in doing so, he was forgoing what would have been some of the most memorable events in his teenage life—prom, graduation and his senior season on the baseball field.
After weighing the pros and cons with his family and North Carolina coach Mike Fox, Michael determined the opportunity was greater than the sacrifice.
“We came to a conclusion that it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” Michael said. “And if I had the opportunity to make the same decision, I would do it again.”
The decision wasn’t just about the willingness to sacrifice, though. He had to determine if he was ready to make the jump.
“I had to look at myself in the mirror: Was I physically and mentally ready to play baseball at the University of North Carolina?” Michael said. “I felt like I could make the transition to play college baseball.”
“It was something that was unusual. It just happened to be the right time and the right situation,” Fox said. “Levi was ready academically, he was ready athletically. He’s always wanted to come to North Carolina, and he was champing at the bit to do it.”
Michael’s on-field performance has validated the decision. While starting all 65 games as a freshman, he batted .290/.377/.527 with 13 home runs, helping North Carolina reach its fourth straight College World Series, then hit .356/.480/.575 with nine home runs as a sophomore last season for a regional team.
A Quick Transition
From a pure talent perspective, Michael was ready to play in the ACC from the time he first stepped foot on campus, but a commitment to physical development and a natural self-assurance helped him succeed against older competition right away.
“You just look at him now and when he walked in, and there’s a world of difference,” Fox said. “He’s very confident. He knows the game, and he’s played it at a high level for a long time. Just not speaking of his physical abilities, he carries himself well. I think he trusts his ability and in his preparation.”
The transitions haven’t stopped since Michael arrived in Chapel Hill a year ahead of schedule.
As a freshman, Michael logged all of his time at second base before moving over to third as a sophomore. This season, he is shifting up the defensive spectrum to serve as the team’s starting shortstop.
Michael played the position throughout high school, so he does have prior experience from which he can draw. And though a broken finger caused him to miss most of fall practice, changing positions—again—hasn’t been as challenging as it was when he was asked to play second and third base during his first two years.
“Making the transition to second and to third was harder because I didn’t have much experience at those positions,” Michael said. “I think reps and playing in games is the biggest thing. I realized as the season went on, I felt more comfortable at those positions.
“Coming back to short, that was an easier transition because I’m used to it. I like the angle of the ball coming off the bat, and I’m just more comfortable at that position.”
Now saddled with more defensive responsibility, Michael made sharpening the glove an offseason priority.
“I felt like my first two years I made more errors than I should have,” Michael said. “So I really locked in on (fielding) because I know I’ve got to be solid for us this year. I took that very seriously this fall.”
Even More Versatility
In addition to collecting reps at shortstop, Michael, a switch-hitter, also has to maintain two swings. In practice, the North Carolina coaching staff works to make sure he receives an equal number of at-bats from both sides, which has helped him achieve mechanical consistency.
“He’s pretty similar between both sides of the plate,” said one National League area scout. “He probably has a little more power from the right side, I would say. But the contact ability, the ability to barrel the ball, it’s pretty similar from both sides.”
With good bat speed and the ability to produce loft and leverage, Michael projects as a doubles hitter with average power. The combination of his size, switch-hitting ability and defensive profile has made comparisons to Brian Roberts popular in the scouting community—though while he’s a good runner, he lacks Roberts’ blazing speed.
“I think he’s an offensive-type second baseman at the pro level,” the scout said. “I think he’s going to gravitate toward that side of the diamond. Initially, I would let him stay at short as long as he can, but time will eventually push him over.”
Wherever Michael winds up, expect him to adjust. He has made transitions before.