Prep Baseball

Cedar Rapids Prairie's Levi Usher balances senior season preparation with MLB draft prospects

Hawks all-state outfielder is projected to be drafted in June

Levi Usher rounds third base at a high school boys' baseball scrimmage at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Levi Usher rounds third base at a high school boys' baseball scrimmage at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Levi Usher loved baseball as a youth.

He also loved basketball and had a passion for football. The current season usually elevated to No. 1 on his list of sports, changing again with the flip of a calendar.

Much of that changed in his first year at Cedar Rapids Prairie. Baseball claimed a permanent hold as favorite when he was promoted to the Hawks’ sophomore team as a freshman.

“I realized I was a little bit better at baseball than I was at other sports,” said Usher, noting his favorite aspect is chasing down fly balls in the outfield. “That’s when I really started enjoying what I could do on the field.”

Baseball could very well love him back in a few short weeks. Usher has blossomed into one of the country’s top high school seniors with the potential to be selected high during Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft in June. Until then, the senior all-stater is focused on helping fifth-ranked Prairie return to the Class 4A state baseball tournament.

Usher is 379th in Baseball America’s draft rankings, making him a possible 12th or 13th round pick and placing his status with Prairie in limbo.

“I am approaching it the same way, even if I was 100-percent sure I was going,” Usher said. “I’m going to try and win every single game I can with Prairie. Just bond with my teammates, get after at practice and put in a ton of work. I’m not sure what is going to go down, but the preparation is the same.”

Usher captured the attention of many scouts and recruiters a year ago with his showcase performances and the showing at the Super 60 All-American Baseball Game in San Diego. He stormed into the top-100 of his class, demonstrating his speed, a strong arm, a good bat and ability to swing with power.

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The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder posted an outfield throwing velocity of 96 miles per hour and a 60-yard dash of 6.24. Prairie Coach Todd Rima said those statistics ranked first in the country at one point.

“That gives you an idea of what type of athlete you’re talking about,” Rima said. “They talk about five-tool guys. Levi is a guy that has all five tools and he just brings something different from you typically see.”

Usher said he has not determined a round or contract amount that would be automatic for him to sign. He has committed to play baseball for Kirkwood, giving him options if he is not happy with his draft status. The Hawks want to have him for the entire summer, but will carry on if his baseball future can’t be put on hold.

“Hopefully, Levi gets to be in a position that he has a choice to make,” Rima said. “That’s all we can hope for him. We want the best for Levi, but while we have Levi we’re going to put him out there and let him be himself.”

As a sophomore, Usher was a role player on the Hawks state title team, hitting an RBI double and scoring the game-winning run in that final against Iowa City West. He has made major progress over the last two seasons, hitting .468 and raising his average by .164 points. His on-base percentage jumped more than .200 points to .571 in 2017.

The idea of getting drafted never entered his mind during his first varsity season.

“I thought I was going to have to fight to get a Division-I offer,” Usher said. “When I was younger, I always thought I wanted to go to the MLB, but I had no idea of the process. I had no idea how I’d go about that. My sophomore year it wasn’t even a thought.”

Usher improved in almost every category between his sophomore and junior season. He led the Mississippi Valley Conference Valley Division in hits (59), home runs (7), and stolen bases (37) and tied for the lead with 29 walks, earning Player of the Year honors. Usher has become more disciplined at the plate, going from 10 walks and 20 strikeouts in 125 at-bats as a sophomore to 29, 17 and 126 last year.

Rima attributes the strides to a relentless work ethic and a dedication to get stronger.

“I think Levi’s commitment to the weight room has really changed his game,” Rima said. “I think it’s helped him with his speed. I think he’s running better than he did as a sophomore.

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“It has helped him with his power. As a sophomore, he hit a lot of balls to the warning track. Those balls are now leaving the yard. I think that has to do with his effort in the weight room.”

Interestingly, baseball was not a focus for weight training. The gains were a byproduct of his work in another sport.

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“It was more of an accident,” Usher said. “I had been lifting with my football team, so it was in preparation for football season and then weight training in football carried over to baseball really well. The numbers showed up really well.”

Football almost tripped up Usher’s professional baseball prospects. The all-district wide receiver and defensive back broke his leg in a scrum for a fumble in an early-season game. He was forced to have season-ending surgery to repair it.

Usher returned to compete near the end of the varsity basketball season and hasn’t skipped a beat, running a recent 60-yard dash in 6.46.

“Levi has worked extremely hard, coming off his injury,” Rima said. “It’s great to see him running the way he did before. His arm strength is back. His swing is back to the Levi we have known.”

Usher will begin his final season Monday against Mount Vernon in the first round of the Bob Vrbicek Metro Baseball tournament, starting at 5 p.m. at Cedar Rapids Kennedy. He plans to soak in his last chance to compete as a Hawk, no matter how long it lasts.

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“It’s crazy,” Usher said. “It’s really exciting. I’m just ready for the games to start.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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