Speed Thrills

Washington riding his legs up prospect charts

It only took 6.21 seconds.

At the starting line, he was LeVon Washington, an athletic position player who had generated some hype at his Florida high school.

Sixty yards and 6.21 seconds later, he had become LeVon Washington, the fastest player at the elite Perfect Game National Showcase and one of the top overall prospects for the 2009 draft.

"I looked back at the clock, and it said 6.21, and it surprised me," Washington said. "And it surprised everyone else—they were all jumping up and down."

But since Washington was the first player in the Minneapolis showcase to be clocked in the 60, he had to sit and watch while the other athletes all tried to better his lightning-quick split.

"I said to myself, if somebody beats me, I'll get up and run again. But there was no reason to."

With a pretty strong overall tool set that features burner-level speed, Washington has made all-state teams, the Aflac All-American team and was part of the initial USA Baseball 18-U trials roster although he withdrew before the trials began. Just a few years ago, though, Washington couldn't even make a little league team.

When his father's military job took the family across the globe to Guam, then-11-year-old Washington naturally went out for the first athletic opportunity he could find. But as quickly as he showed up for practice, he was turned away even faster.

"I got there and didn't even practice, and they told me there wasn't any more room," he said. "They didn't even see me play yet—just by looking at me, they decided they didn't want me."

Undeterred, Washington showed up again the next day. When the team saw he wasn't going away quietly, they let him practice. Shortly after, he was on the roster.

His family spent three years in Guam before returning to Florida, where Washington played high school baseball, basketball and football. It is a blend of all three sports that developed the speed and athleticism that defines Washington's abilities.

It is no surprise that the athletes Washington looks up to are not limited to the baseball diamond. Speedy Jose Reyes of the Mets was his first instinct, but Washington also idolizes electric Chicago Bears kick returner Devin Hester and Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash.

"Football helps me with my speed because we do a lot of running and training in the summer," Washington said. "Basketball helps me with my fielding because you have to play defense and get down."

There are two facets to speed, though: natural quickness and the mental aptitude of knowing how to put it to use. The natural abilities are evident with Washington, and with more experience in the second area, he could be dangerous on the base paths at the next level.

"I let him have a green light on the bases because he is so fast," said Adam Souilliard, Washington's coach at Gainesville (Fla.) High. "He's still learning the game a little bit, with situational running and everything, but he's getting a lot better."

The heads-up running was on display at the Tournament of Stars Showcase in June in Cary, N.C. After reaching base in one game by beating out a ground ball to third, Washington stole second. Then, he stole third base without a pitch even being thrown—he simply saw that the pitcher wasn't paying him any attention, and he took off.

The mind game is an area that Washington is working to incorporate more and more. He frequently takes fake jumps, pretending to steal and hoping to force a balk. Once he works himself into the pitcher's mind, he believes the battle is won.

"They start to get worried and the coach tells them to watch me," he said. "Then they start to worry about me, not the batter, and that's when they mess up."

Washington also has a tendency to come up big in big spots. When the district tournament and regional playoffs rolled around last year, he played some of his best ball.

"He didn't get out too many times in those games, and it opened my eyes a little bit to what he can do," Souilliard said. "He showed some glimpses of what he can do during the regular season, but come playoffs it was like he had a switch and he turned it on."

But for all the noise that scouts have been generating about Washington, he doesn't make much noise of his own. He is soft-spoken and not eager to speak at length about his accomplishments, though he is quick to insert the proper sirs and ma'ams.

In spite of this apparent shyness, Washington demonstrated at Gainesville that he has developed into a leader.

"He's a quiet kid," Souilliard said. "He likes to lead by example more than anything else because he's not one of those get-in-your-face kinds of kids. It's just, 'this is how you do it; this is how I'm going to show you. This is how you win.'

It is unclear right now which position Washington will play at the next level. He played both middle infield and outfield in high school. While he likes playing shortstop best, his speed best projects him as a rangy center fielder, and he has enough arm strength to fit the part.

Washington is committed to attend Florida, but said he'll wait on his draft status before making any definitive choices regarding his future.

He proved himself on a little league field in Guam, high school fields across Florida, and in the 60-yard dash at the Metrodome. Pretty soon, Washington will speed off to the next level, where he'll try to prove himself once more.