In his third season in professional baseball, Texas AirHogs 1B Levi Scott has developed a plan for success that will surely lead to a return to affiliate ball, as he enters play on Tuesday hitting over .300.
Introducing Levi Scott
There is a cliché that says that no one plans to fail, they fail to plan. No one truly wants to be a failure. They simply don’t develop a plan than enables them to have success and so failure is the only outcome that is possible. The inability to develop a plan has made failure an almost absolute certainty.
In a sport like baseball, where failure is an almost certainty in seven or eight times out of ten, not developing a plan on how one is going to have success is proving the cliché to be 100 percent accurate. This is the game of failure, where the person who fails the least is considered a Hall of Famer.
As you listen to what it takes to have success in baseball you will hear a lot about hard work, long hours in the batting cage or fielding ground balls, and maturing mentally so that one can handle the frustration that comes from the continual failure. There truly is a lot that one must do to reach the professional level of the sport.
One word you will hear a lot of about is the “approach” that one takes when he comes to bat or faces a batter. The word approach is often used synonymously with a person’s plan, but the truth is that the approach is only a small piece of the plan that a player develops so that he can have the greatest amount of success each time he takes the field.
The plan is truly the difference maker, not only in turning a college or high school player into a professional, but also in helping turn a career back on track when it has derailed. That plan is essential if one is going to avoid failure, and is the primary reason why no one would be surprised to see Texas AirHogs slugger Levi Scott returning to affiliate ball.
Gently Steered toward the Diamond
A love for baseball spawned as soon as Levi Scott could walk. In fact, it was a common site to see him carrying a ball and bat in his hand. He grew up loving baseball, but also had an affinity for football as well. Levi loved both, but the two most influential people in his life convinced him that baseball was clearly the smarter choice.
“My dad and grandpa talked me out of me playing football because they were worried about big injuries. They convinced me that baseball was the way to go. Ever since middle school it’s been nothing but me and baseball.”
The wisdom of the adults proved to be quite brilliant. Levi starred at Burleson (TX) High School, hitting .402 with 7-homers and 29-RBI in 36-games as a junior and .511 with 12-homers and 53-RBI in 44-games as a senior. His junior season (2010), Scott was the District 3-5A MVP, and was named to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram First-Team. He also was named the All-Johnson County Pitcher of the Year.
In his senior season, the accolades kept coming. Not only was Levi the THSBCA 7-4A All District MVP and was awarded 4A All-State Second-Team honors, but he showed his success in the classroom as well, honored by being selected to the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence. He also earned All-State Academic honors.
A True Maverick
After graduating high school. Levi Scott headed for Howard Junior College. There he was part of the Hawk’s baseball program for two seasons. In his freshman season, Levi hit .314 with 4-homers and 40-RBI in 56-games. That season he was named to the Texas/New Mexico JCBCA All-Star Team and the Hawks were the WJCAC champions.
A year later, he hit .359 with 4-homers and 27-RBI in 33-games. He had shown plenty enough to Major League scouts and, following the 2013 campaign, Levi was chosen in the 21st round by the Baltimore Orioles. It was his chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing professional baseball, but Levi decided that he would return to college, transferring to the University of Texas-Arlington. It’s a decision that he second guesses to this day.
“I had an injury the first time I was drafted and that’s part of the reason I didn’t take it. I wanted to get healthy first. However, I am not going to lie. It’s a decision I question myself about all the time. Did I make the right call? Sometimes I wonder if I did.”
Fully healthy, Levi began his junior season with the Mavericks and was an instantaneous success. He hit .303 with 3-homers and 19-RBI in 50-games that season. In the Sun Belt Conference Tournament he really stepped up his game, hitting .400.
In his senior season, the slugger hit .327 with 7-homers and 49-RBI. While his junior numbers were outstanding, his senior year was off the charts, and it was not long before the scouts were swarming around him like a group of Texas gnats.
“Being fully healthy made a big difference. I am a big guy and so I am expected to hit with power, but the injury changed my swing my junior season. As a senior I was able to drive the ball more and that results showed that.”
His Career Began to Soar
In 2015, Levi Scott was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 28th round of the Major League Baseball draft. It was surprising that he did not go earlier, but a miscommunication between scouts and Scott’s agent led to his stock dropping slightly, making it a bit more nerve wracking than he had desired.
Regardless of where he was drafted the important part was that Levi was a professional baseball player, with the Blue Jays assigning him to their rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League in 2015. There, he hit .205 in 48-games with a homer and 18-RBI, a tough start to his career. Pro ball was a lot different, and was going to take some adjustment.
“My first year in pro ball I hit .205 and it was different. You have a lot of guys in college but you may see one guy out of every month who may throw 95+, whereas in pro ball you see one every single day. You see different pitches that you don’t usually see. It is an adjustment knowing the fact that in pro ball if you’re a .275 plus hitter your considered a pretty good hitter at the plate. It was an adjustment for me, obviously you want to hit .300, but all of those guys are Hall of Famers.”
The next year, Levi was sent to Bluefield in the Appalachian League where he showed dramatic improvement, hitting .253 with 5-homers and 28-RBI. It is the kind of progress that teams are usually happy to see, but the organization decided to release him at the end of the 2016 season.
Taking Flight a Different Way
For the first time since he was like two-years-old, Levi Scott was not playing baseball. It was a stunning turn of events, which didn’t really seem to make much sense to be honest. He was not given much of a chance, but the slugger knew that if he was going to have another opportunity, he had to create that opening for himself. He wasn’t going to wait around for affiliate clubs to call; it was time to start looking at independent baseball.
“I didn’t really know a whole lot about independent baseball. Before you get into it, it kind of has a bad rap in a sense. It’s just one of those things where there were a couple of teams that offered me contracts, but I didn’t know much about it and the more I started researching into it and asking friends who played an independent ball they told me that you wanted to play in the American Association or the Atlantic League.”
For Levi, he not only wanted to find a good place to play, but wanted to ensure that he had a chance to continue to develop. He also loved the idea of playing near his home and so when the Texas AirHogs came calling it seemed like a total no-brainer.
“I had some guys who knew (Manager) Billy (Martin, Jr.) and they really liked him, so I thought if I’m going to do independent baseball I might as well do it close to home so I can save a little money while I can. I liked what Billy offered, and the I had a chance to become a better player here. There was a spot open and I did well enough to impress them, so here I am.”
Entering Tuesday night’s action, Levi is continuing to impress his coaches and opposing pitchers. He is leading the team with a .301 average and is second on the squad with 7-homers and 44-RBI. The AirHogs star has 32 total extra base hits and has walked 40-times to post a .379 on-base percentage. It is truly the kind of performance that he knew he was capable of.
The Focus on the Plan
Playing with the Texas AirHogs was not exactly how Levi Scott had envisioned his professional career going, but he has never looked upon this a negative. He trusts what has made him successful to this point and knows that if he sticks to his plan good things are going to happen.
“You have to have a plan. This is a game that can humble you quickly, and so you have to prepared for all you can. If you stick with that plan and know you’ve done everything you can to stay with that plan in every at-bat every time you come to the stadium, then you’re going to be fine.”
To be a professional baseball player, one must have a great deal of confidence in his abilities, but in a sport where there is so much failure, it is easy to get sidetracked and start second guessing everything you do. That plan can become an essential ingredient in keeping a player on the right pathway and not letting outside influences send him in the wrong direction.
“Once you get a lot of information you start overthinking things. In baseball you just can’t do that. You want to make it as simple as possible and as small as it is. Even the radar gun can be an issue. Guys start looking at that, gauging what they need to do, but the gun’s not always right. You may get to the plate and it may be faster or slower and that changes the everything. Just keep it simple. If you have too much info you’re going to overthink things and make it more complicated. Baseball is hard enough as it is, so just try to make it easy on yourself.”
Keeping a Positive Approach
The funny thing about sports is that today you are the hero of the town, the guy everyone wishes that their daughter would marry, but tomorrow you go 0-4 and the town wishes that you crashed your car on the way home. It is a very loyal yet fickle fan base that most athletes play in front of each night.
Players understand that they are performing for those fans, and so they take their role in the community quite seriously. However, they also understand that their teammates are depending upon them even more. That is a lot of pressure to put on one’s shoulders, too much for many players who let the frustrations overwhelm them. It takes a certain approach, or dare we say plan, to handle that kind of pressure. Levi Scott has a strategy for that as well.
“You are going to have bad days, days where you know you have let people down. You can let that eat you up or you can approach this as there is another day. As cliché as it is, the next at-bat is the most important. Even if you go 0 for 3 in your first at-bats with three punch outs, you might win the whole game in your last at-bat. That’s something that I’ve honed in on as well. I don’t want to treat it as a job anymore. I think guys get kind of into a mindset where it’s a job so they think about what they need to do to get out of here. I want to still look at it like it’s a game. If you just have fun with it, it will take care of itself. There’s always the next day, there’s always that next at-bat, and just knowing that is a key to success.”
What is lost on the casual fan is that this is the player’s job. This is not only the way they are supporting themselves, but they may have a family to care for as well, and that can lead to a lot of pressure to perform. Forget making millions of dollars; they may need to do well on the field just to put food on the table for their wife and kids. That can take a lot of fun out of the game, and it has for Levi at an earlier point in his career, but his plan has given him a whole new outlook about this.
“There’s a point that once it becomes your job, you want to do so good that you start going downhill a little bit. To me now that I’ve been through it, I know you can’t do that. I know some guys can get through that but, for most, it’s hard to improve when you’re trying to press so much, trying to do things to get to the next level, instead of letting it just take care of itself. I’m enjoying it now.”
The New Approach Implemented to Perfection
Levi Scott is having the best season of his professional career, which has come with a new focus this season. He always knew he could hit, and proved it in college. However, he understands that what separates a college player from a professional one comes down to one thing – consistency.
“Consistency has been the biggest thing that I’ve tried to work on to improve myself. You may have certain tools that are outstanding but are you consistent with them? Personally I think that is the biggest thing that will get you seen and onto the next level. If you are consistent throughout the season, then you have a good chance to do whatever you want to do.”
To develop consistency, one must stick with what works – a plan. In affiliate ball there are literally dozens of scouts, coaches, and instructors who want to change every part of what a player does. That can have a great impact on a player, but it can also destroy their career. The secret of consistency is knowing when to take a piece of advice, a lesson he learned for American League MVP Josh Donaldson.
“There’s a quote that Josh Donaldson said where you don’t have to take everything that is being said. If you’re going to go down and your career ends tomorrow, why not go down the way you want to? Yes, you want to be coachable, yes there’s things you’re going to take from different coaches but, at the same time, if things work for you then I would rather do that than have somebody constantly try to change something just because it may look better. Then all of a sudden I go downhill. If my last game is tomorrow or 10 years from now, I want to go down the way I want to. I think a lot of people view that weird but it’s your career. That’s not being uncoachable, it’s just making sure that you look out for your own career.”
Advisors to the Plan
The plan that Levi Scott has implemented this season has been quite successful, but there have been those along the way that have really helped him to have success with that plan. Two stand out for Levi.
“Curt Sanders was the first guy who kind of let me know that I had something going on. He always tried to push me and was always one of the guys who told me that no matter what, you always got to carry yourself well. No matter whether you’re coming on or off the field, there’s a way that people look at that too. It’s how you carry yourself on and off the field, how you carry yourself in between pitches, how you carry yourself after you go 0 for 4. How do you present yourself, how do you let other people see you after days like that?”
The second is one who has lived out the plan. A player who went through independent ball and made it all the way to the big leagues – Chris Colabello.
“Last Spring Training we got to be around him quite a bit. His history with independent baseball, he’s been through it, so seeing how he went about doing his business has been inspirational. The way he explained to us, whatever you want baseball to be for you is up to you. If you want it to be your job then go make it be your job, but, in the end, he could’ve gave up years ago but look where he went. He made it in baseball is his career. The way he put it to me is if you still enjoy it and you’re still improving then why give up. There are a lot of guys the first time they get cut they’re done. I don’t want that to be me. I want to look back and say I didn’t regret any of it.”
There clearly are no regrets this season. Levi Scott chose to become a Texas AirHogs player and he has starred for the team. On a squad that has been offensively challenged at times, he has been a huge bright spot. Whether that will lead to his return to affiliate ball is a whole different issue, but one thing is for sure. If there is an organization that wants to have an outstanding man of talent and character manning first base for them, they should make a plan to sign Levi Scott.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA