Twins' top pick completes intense program

Twins' top pick completes intense program

Twins' top pick completes intense program
MINNEAPOLIS -- Levi Michael knows he has some ground to make up after being held out of Minor League action last year because of injuries.

Michael, the Twins' first-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, dealt with an ankle injury during his junior year at North Carolina that led to overcompensation injuries to his groin and abductor muscles.

That's why Michael spent more than four weeks this offseason rehabbing and training at the Saddlebrook Resort north of Tampa, which partners with CAA -- the agency that represents him.

It was an intense program, which included workouts six days a week -- with four of those days including both morning sessions that focused on speed and agility, and night workouts that focused on strength and conditioning.

The shortstop also spent every day rehabbing his groin and abductor muscle injuries with a custom-tailored therapy program from the team of trainers at the facility.

"It was a great experience," said Michael, who returned from the complex last week. "I feel like I came a long way in those four weeks. I'm feeling just about up to 100 percent."

When Michael was initially evaluated at the facility, there was still inflammation in his groin and abductor muscles that came as a result of his ankle injury that he suffered midway through his final season at North Carolina.

His ankle was healed after taking time off, but he was still restricted, especially with lateral movements, because of his inflamed muscles.

"We needed to control the inflammation and take the abductors and allow them to loosen up to create the right firing patterns," said Jason Riley, the director of sports performance at Saddlebrook Resort. "So we spent time every day on the table to see what muscles were overfiring and what muscles we needed to activate to create better patterns that will help his overall performance."

As part of his rehab, Michael underwent deep tissue massages, muscle activation therapy and spent time in hot and cold tubs. He also worked out with the team of trainers at the resort, and was able to do lateral movement exercises without any problems by the third week.

Michael also was able to partake in baseball activities, as the complex has batting cages and practice areas for the more than 40 baseball players who come to the facility during the offseason.

"From what he told us, he was playing through pain that was mild and severe at different times, so I truly think this year can be one of those years where he doesn't have to feel that," said Riley, who has worked with stars such as Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman. "I think we're 85-90 percent better than we were when he first showed up."

Now feeling healed from his various ailments, Michael said his goal this season is to stay healthy, considering his troubles with injuries last year at North Carolina.

He missed just one game, but the switch-hitter saw his performance slip, as he batted .289 with a .434 on-base percentage and .434 slugging percentage after combining to hit .315/.426/.548 over his first two seasons.

He also saw a dip in his home run and stolen base numbers, but the Twins still liked what they saw from Michael because they were confident he would get back to his usual levels of production when healthy.

The Twins, however, decided it wasn't worth forcing Michael to play in short-season ball, as they wanted to give him time to heal.

"It was definitely something where I wish I could've got out there sooner, but with my injuries, I wasn't able to do so," Michael said. "It didn't heal as fast as I intended to because I didn't rest during the season, but now it's feeling much better because the Twins did allow me time to fully recover."

Michael says he's ready for his first year of professional ball, and is heading to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 20 to get an early start on Minor League Spring Training and to meet with the Twins' training staff.

The Twins still haven't decided whether Michael will start the year at Class A Beloit or Class A Advanced Fort Myers, according to Twins vice president of players personnel Mike Radcliff.

But for Michael, all he wants is an opportunity to play and the chance to prove his injuries are behind him.

"I would definitely like to make a big impact soon, but mainly my biggest thing this year is staying healthy," Michael said. "I'm real excited. This is something that can drain you both physically and mentally. I'm about a year out and now I'm feeling about 100 percent. It's a big relief. And so I'm looking forward to continuing to stay healthy."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.