LeVon Washington was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 2nd round in 2010. His ascent through the minor leagues has been derailed by a series of injuries but he still enters each season with the determination to reach the major leagues. I had the opportunity to catch up with him after the conclusion of his 2013 season right before he departed to work out in Arizona.
Speaking with LeVon gave me a similar emotional response but in this case I wanted to grab my old ball glove and shag fly balls or find a batting cage and take some cuts.
I don’t think he knew he was invoking this type of response. He was just answering questions about his life, the trials and tribulations of the last few seasons, and his aspirations buoyed by self-confidence to be a major league baseball player.
He simply speaks with an honesty that is refreshing and inspiring. His ability to communicate effectively may stem from having to make new friends as he and his family moved around throughout his childhood.
He was born in Boston, Massachusetts where he spent the first two years of his life but says he doesn’t remember any of it and has never been back. His family left Boston and moved to Jacksonville, Florida where he lived for eight years before heading overseas to Guam. where he spent three years before returning stateside and settling in Gainesville, Florida.
His high school career was marked with more moving around and overcoming controversy. In 2007 he attended Buchholz High School but was surrounded by turmoil as long time coach Bob Smith was fired shortly after the Gainesville Sun reported the details of a heated exchange with new University of Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan.
With the Buchholz program in turmoil Washington requested and was granted a waiver to transfer to Gainesville High where he spent his Junior season before deciding to return to Buchholz for his Senior season.
During his first two years of high school he was an infielder and Jose Reyes was his favorite player but now he says he doesn’t really have a favorite player. “It used to be Jose Reyes until he started getting hurt…I really don’t watch him – he’s still good. I used to compare myself to him because I used to play shortstop and that’s who I wanted to be like, that’s why I wear number 7 still.”
Prior to his Senior season he had surgery on his shoulder to repair a torn labrum which ended his days in the infield and began the transition to center field.
After completing his Senior season he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round. At the time he had a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Florida and was being advised by Scott Boras. The negotiations reached an impasse and Washington and the Rays were unable to reach an agreement. On top of failing to reach an agreement on a contract with the Rays he was deemed academically ineligible and had to find somewhere to play ball.
He settled on nearby Chipola Junior College in nearby Marianna, Florida where he played for a season before being drafted by the Indians in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. The negotiations once again went down to the wire but he and the Indians reached agreement and he immediately headed to Arizona to play in three games with the Arizona Rookie Indians.
In 2011 he was slowed by a knee injury in spring training which delayed the start of his season. He reported to the Indians A ball affiliate Lake County Captains on May 5th and struggled in 79 games hitting just .218 (65 for 298) and struck out 25.3% (89 times in 351 plate appearances) while producing only 17 extra base hits.
In 2012 he was diagnosed with a tron labrum in his hip that required surgery. He began the year with the Captains and through six games was hitting .440 (11 for 25) before departing for Vail, Colorado where Dr. Marc Philippon of the Steadman Clinic performed the surgery. He came back to appear in three games in mid-August with the Arizona Rookie League Indians and finished the season appearing in four games with the Indians High-A affiliate Carolina Mudcats.
The injury bug plagued him again in 2013. In his very first game with the Captains he pulled his hamstring which caused him to miss most of the first three weeks of the season. He returned but struggled with the hamstring and was shut down again on May 27th. After a quick game with the Captians on July 8th he returned to Arizona where he spent the next 10 games returning to the Captains on July 28th.
In 61 games split between the Arizona Indians (10 games) and the Lake County Captains he hit.348 (80 for 230) with a .997 OPS and 16 stolen bases while only getting caught four times.
Baseball is a game of overcome negative outcome and special players have the unique ability to overcome obstacles and Washington has had to overcome a lot in his young life. Changing high schools, a position change prior to his Senior year due to a shoulder injury, frustrating negotiations with the Rays, unable to play at the University of Florida, slowed by a hand injury at Chipola, plagued by injuries each season with the Indians including a knee injury (2011), a hip surgery (2012), and a hamstring injury (2013).
He handles the frustration by believing that he will overcome, he has to overcome, and that he will be better than before. “For me, I’ve always had to earn everything. No matter what it’s been. Like with the draft – I had to go back to school, had to prove that I could get drafted again, whatever, whatever….and for me, I’ve always had to earn everything I’ve gotten and it’s not going to be given to me. So I know, when I come off of these injuries I’m going to be o.k. – I’m going to work hard to get back to where I was at, I’m going to be better.”
He uses the hip surgery as an example. “I knew coming off of that I was just going to work harder, I’m going to be just as fast, I’m going to get my speed back, I’m going to be better and I came back better.”
Washington takes a unique view on the injuries as he believes they have helped him. “The injuries, its helped me in the minor leagues. I mean honestly, they’ve made me work a lot harder because if I would have came in my first year when I had all that hype coming in from the draft with the Indians or whatever and I would have had a good season it probably would have made me not work as hard during the off season because I would have thought I’m going to be in the big leagues in two years.”
Despite his words on working hard and not letting injuries slow him down there is a theme to the available on-line scouting reports. Most question where he was drafted, his poor arm strength, and questions surrounding his consistent effort suggesting he takes plays off. Do these characterization’s bother him, has he developed a chip on his shoulder?
“It really doesn’t have an affect on me when I’m playing in the field but it does motivate me when I’m in the batters box. Or when I’m at home lifting weights or something I think about those things that people say that I’m not going to make it and it just motivates me more. I just want to see what they say when I’m wearing that big league uniform….I know I’m going to get there.”
He is now 100% healthy and will enjoy a few weeks in Arizona before returning to Gainesvile to continuing preparing for next season. He is comfortable in center field and his arm feels great as he continues to work with the organization on some mechanical changes to increase the strength of his throws.
He ‘s not sure where he’s going to start next year and won’t know until Spring Training but like everything else he puts a positive spin on it. “If I open in Carolina my goal is going to be to get to the big leagues that year.”
Washington has youth on his side as he is still just 22 years old and won’t turn 23 until July 26th. If he can remain healthy he has a very good chance to be a helium riser in the organization.