Rymer Liriano, rated the Padres' No. 1 prospect
by MLB.com, is like most 21-year-olds with the promise of a bright future: He's eager to move up in the organization but knows he has to bide his time and take nothing for granted.
Liriano, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, says his ascent from Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore to Double-A San Antonio the second half of this past season helped him learn a lot of the nuances of situational baseball, noting that playing in the Arizona Fall League will help him hone that and other skills.
He was a Topps and Baseball American All-Star in 2011, as well as the Midwest League's MVP and Prospect of the Year. With Lake Elsinore in the first part of 2012, he hit .298 with five home runs, 41 RBIs and 22 stolen bases; moving to San Antonio for 53 games, he hit .251 with three home runs, 20 RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
Since he began his career in the Padres' organization in 2008, Liriano says he has done a lot to prepare himself mentally and physically, something that has boosted his confidence.
"I'm really ready," he said when asked if playing in the Major Leagues next season is a possibility. "I've been consistent. You have to ready because you never know."
There are some indications that Liriano, once he learns to combine his skill sets, has the potential to be a five-tool player.
"He's a tremendous talent," said Dusty Wathan, his manager on the Peoria Javelinas in the Fall League. "He's got a great arm, he can run ... got some power, looks like he can hit the ball to all fields.
"So I think the Padres definitely have something special in him. It's nice to have a guy like that have an opportunity to play here and really get to judge him against the best of the best in the Minor Leagues right now."
Liriano admits that being tagged as a No. 1 prospect with people expecting you to produce consistently at a high level gives him something else to think about. Staying in control while under that pressure is big thing, he said, adding that how he reacts will be a testament to him as a person.
"It's having a positive attitude," he said. "Stay positive no matter what. ... you strike out, but you stay ready."
Liriano said talking with fellow Dominicans, such as Nelson Cruz and Manny Ramirez, has also provided him with guidance.
"Nelson, I talked to him, and he said, 'No matter what, you need to get stronger every day,'" Liriano said. "I like Manny; he is consistent with his swing. It's really important because the last years I had too much [aggressiveness] for the swing."
Wathan would not make any predictions on when Liriano will jump to the Padres, but he knows Liriano's time in Arizona will offer a lot of clues.
"Obviously, if he has a good year here in the Fall League, it'll definitely help him continue his progress toward the Major Leagues," Wathan said. "I think you'll be able to judge that a little more toward the end [of the Fall League season]."
Padres hitters in the Fall League
Cory Spangenberg, rated the Padres' No. 6 prospect, has made a smooth transition from third base to second. He was the club's No. 1 Draft pick (10th overall) in 2011. The second baseman missed six weeks this season at Lake Elsinore due to concussion-like symptoms. Spangenberg has the speed to make him a threat, and he stole 27 bases this season.
Jeudy Valdez has been looking for his big break for some time now. The 23-year-old second baseman, signed in 2006, has appeared in almost 600 Minor League games. He had rough time in his first year in Double-A this season, hitting .225 in 128 games while striking out 126 times.
Nate Freiman, at 25, is one of older players in the Fall League and has four years in the Padres organization. This season was the best for the 6-foot-7, 225-pound first baseman. Moving up to San Antonio, he hit .298 with 24 home runs, 105 RBIs and a .502 slugging percentage in 137 games. He earned all-ACC academic team and honor roll laurels each season at Duke.
Padres pitchers in the Fall League
Robbie Erlin said he is coming back strong after left elbow tendinitis. Tabbed as the No. 8 prospect in the organization, the left-handed Erlin is looking ahead, not letting the injury affect his mind-set.
"I was just kind of disappointed that I couldn't keep developing throughout the season," he said. "That's really how I looked at it. I'm really just focusing on development." Erlin, who has increased the pace of his windup, was 3-1 with San Antonio last season with a 2.92 ERA, making 11 starts.
Kevin Quackenbush who was selected in the eighth round in 2011 by the Padres after a college career at South Florida, made good first impressions. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound right-handed reliever has appeared in 87 games with the organization, and his ERA is 0.81, with 141 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings.
Matt Stites was a 17th-round selection (533rd overall) in the 2011 Draft and has yet to lose a game in the Minors (6-0, 1.19 ERA in 68 relief appearances). He recorded 13 saves for Class A Fort Wayne this summer. He is making the transition from being a starting pitcher in college, where he led Missouri in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2011.