Levi Borders Could Have Tough Career Choices Ahead
Mon. June 04, 2012 at 2:27 a.m. | By Polk Preps Staff
Winter Haven senior Levi Borders, who also was the quarterback on the football team, made the move from shortstop to catcher. (Photo by PAUL CRATE | LEDGER MEDIA GROUP )
By BILL KEMP | NEWS CHIEF
WINTER HAVEN | There's a reason why people are not lining up to play catcher: It's a war zone behind the plate.
Winter Haven High School senior Levi Borders made the gutsy transition from shortstop to catcher this year, and his sweaty travail was rewarded with a college baseball scholarship to South Florida.
But Borders, like many top prospects, may have another decision on his plate in the next few weeks. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hand hitter will be a candidate for the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, June 4-6, or future MLB Drafts if he continues on the collegiate route.
"I think the player has to make the ultimate decision," said Pat Borders, Levi's father and former Major League Baseball catcher. "Give him all the facts, and let him make his own mind up. If you try to push him too far in one direction, he may resent the decision that was made for him. They're not knuckleheads. At this point they're close to being men. We don't give them enough credit. You give them the right facts and they'll come up with the right decision 99 percent of the time."
In Levi's case the plot thickens.
As a high school quarterback who threw for 1,809 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, cravings remain to fire the football, and come late summer the two-sport star may be a USF football walk-on.
"I'm going to try to do it," said Levi, the day of his college signing. "It might be a little bit tough doing both, but we'll see how it works out. He (Skip Holtz, USF head coach) came out here and talked to me about it, and he preferred a walk-on."
Levi led the Blue Devils to the Class 6A, District 10 championship, a perfect 10-0 regular season and a 37-15 regional quarterfinals win over Seabreeze High School last November.
As a starting quarterback, Levi never lost a regular-season varsity game, posting a 19-0 mark over three seasons. But wearing two different sets of headgear this school year hasn't hindered Levi's development behind the plate, and in all likelihood it's his football DNA that spearheaded his transition from shortstop.
"If you want to clone (a catcher) you would say you want a football player that likes contact," said Pat. "You have to want to do it or you're not going to be very good at it.
"You have to enjoy a little bit of contact. The football mentality probably helped him out a little bit. He enjoys it, and he says he doesn't want to go back to the infield, which is exactly what you want to hear out of a catcher."
Contact comes in several flavors including spit-firing foul tips, bruising errant bats, piercing spikes and the classic bang-bang collision guarding the most coveted piece of real estate in the park. Of course, in time, the constant barrage can take a toll one's body.
"It's probably the reason people don't want to catch because it does affect your hitting," said Pat. "You're tired, and you never feel really good. You get a foul tip every other game and it seems like you're sore for two or three days. You're never completely healthy when you're back there catching."
Levi's offensive numbers dipped after putting on the mask and moving into the war zone this year.
Borders finished the season hitting .365 with five home runs and 18 RBIs. Playing shortstop last year, he hit .435 with six round trippers and 29 RBIs.
"His statistics may have tapered off a little bit, but his leadership and intangibles he brings to the baseball field are second to none," said Winter Haven interim head coach Ryan Abrams. "He has light-tower power."
According to Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau's webpage, position players are graded on hitting ability, power, running speed, arm strength and fielding. With a scale ranging from 2-8 used in each category. There are also generic qualities calculated in the mix such as aggressiveness, instinct, dedication and work ethic.
"Levi has a quiet leadership about him, a good arm, not fast, but he has quick feet," said Pat, adding feet are essential to catching.
Players scoring in the range of 40-80 are considered Major League prospects. But even if a player makes the grade, it doesn't ensure success. They are only entering the learning curve.
According to Pat, catchers have to control the pitcher's psyche and running game while staying abreast of situations and identifying weaknesses in hitters. And in some cases — mostly professional — they have to call the game.
Pat, the MVP of the 1992 World Series, played high school football and was an infielder before making his transition to catcher.
"I didn't know how to catch until I got to the big leagues. Cito Gaston and Gene Tenace (former Toronto Blue Jays manager and coach) were constantly in my ear. "I was a third baseman when I switched, and I thought how hard could it be to call a game? And when I retired I realized I'm still learning at 42. (Levi) will get a crash course from me on calling pitches."
But in the meantime, there's no draft apprehension surfacing on Levi's part. He's just focusing on getting better.