Liriano's power, speed makes him intriguing for Padres
Rymer Liriano was at the San Diego Padres' Dominican Republic baseball academy when the facility opened in 2008. Now, after battling back from Tommy John surgery, he is the first player from the academy to make the Major League club. Liriano made his big league debut on Aug. 11.
The Padres signed Liriano as an international free agent in 2007. He began his career on San Diego's 2008 Dominican Summer League club by hitting .198 in 67 games. Liriano had 267 plate appearances as a 17-year-old and hit nine home runs among his 46 hits. He stole nine bases, being thrown out five times.
Liriano progressed through the Padres' system, and in 2011, he was assigned to Class A Fort Wayne in the Midwest League. He hit .319 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs. Liriano ended the season playing 15 games at Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in the California League.
My first extended look at Liriano came in the 2012 Arizona Fall League. That followed a season in which he hit a combined .280 with eight home runs and 61 RBIs playing for Lake Elsinore once again and at Double-A San Antonio.
I came away from Liriano's fall season impressed with his potential as an impact bat. He had 91 at-bats as the Peoria Javelinas' regular right fielder. Liriano had a .319 batting average with five doubles and four home runs. He scored 23 runs, knocked in 15 and stole six bases (he was caught stealing twice). Liriano was among the standout players in the league.
That fall, what I saw daily from Liriano was a rare mix of power and speed tools for a player his size. Along with his potent bat and better-than-average speed for his 6-foot, 230-pound frame, Liriano flashed a much-better-than-average arm from right field. In fact, he threw so hard, his mechanics and velocity may have even contributed to the need for his career-interrupting elbow surgery last year. At the time of his operation, Liriano was ranked the No. 3 prospect in the Padres' organization. He is currently ranked No. 6 on San Diego's Top 20 Prospect list.
Following the conclusion of his Fall League season, I wrote that Liriano reminded me physically of Raul Mondesi, a former big league outfielder with good power and a potent bat. In fact, I have read that comparison often, and it still holds true.
The right-handed-hitting Liriano is seeing regular duty with the big league club. He is scuffling a bit against right-handed pitching as he becomes more accustomed to the higher quality pitching in the Major Leagues.
Liriano has impressive bat speed with quick hands through the ball. He can generate backspin and loft, both important to his home run potential. However, Liriano will become more dangerous when he learns to recognize breaking pitches and becomes more selective at the plate. There are times he tries to muscle the ball out of the park with an aggressive rather than discriminatory approach to pitch selection. Liriano expands the strike zone and in essence, gets himself out. But there is electricity in his bat. The ball makes that special sound on contact. Increasing that solid contact will likely become part of Liriano's future.
Liriano still must convert his raw tools to proven, dependable skills. He is more projection at this point than a finished player. Despite this tough beginning with the parent club, Liriano still figures to offer a potent bat for a team that can use his power and overall offensive ability. In parts of six Minor League seasons, Liriano, 23, has hit .274 with 54 homers and 314 RBIs. He has stolen 172 bases.
Searching for a consistent rhythm in his swing and being able to use solid mechanics to compliment his strength and bat speed are requisite components for Liriano's future. More seasoning is required for him to find a comfort level that helps him make consistent contact and punish pitchers. But Liriano has that potential. He has that ability. It just must be unlocked.