Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Potential for five average or better tools long term, giving him the ceiling of a no doubt first division regular.
The Player: Rymer Liriano (OF, San Diego Padres) – The Padres signed Liriano at the outset of the 2007 international signing period. He made his professional debut at 17-years old in the DSL and struggled to a .198/.296/.379 line. The following year he tore through the AZL with a .360 average, eight doubles, eight home runs and 14 steals in 50 games. The peak of his 2010 season came at Eugene were he hit .271/.335/.394 in 53 games, but he struggled in a 50 game trial in the Midwest League, hitting just .194. Despite that, the Padres pushed him to High-A to start the 2011 season and he again struggled, hitting just .127 in 15 games before a demotion to Fort Wayne. With Fort Wayne he hit .319 with 30 doubles, eight triples and 12 home runs en route to taking home the league MVP.
Body: Athletic and muscular with a well-built 6-foot frame. Relatively thick thighs portend some filling out in the lower half but overall athleticism should remain.
Makeup: Has handled failure well and continues to work hard at his game. Has improved his most glaring weaknesses with a strong work ethic and a thirst for instruction. Shows the confidence on the field that scouts love.
Hit: Previously struggled a ton with pitch recognition but made good strides and tracked pitches much better in 2011. Sees breaking balls well out of the hand and showed increased aptitude for adjusting to them mid-swing or completely laying off them. Will still be tested against more advanced and better quality breaking balls. Has strong arms and wrists that generate plus-plus bat speed through the zone. Can wait on pitches more than he does and should improve that with experience. Potential solid-average hitter with occasional seasons of more than that. Grade – 30/50
Power: Plus-plus bat speed gives easy power to all fields. Tends to show more game power to the pull side. Needs to trust his hands and natural strength to go the other way with the ball for power. Has added loft to his swing to give him better elevation and back spin on the ball. Potential for 20-25 home runs annually. Grade (raw power) – 40/60
Arm: Flashes from average to plus depending on his footwork heading toward release. Doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly and could stand to improve his accuracy. Grade – 50/60
Fielding: Moves well in the outfield with good instincts for his age and the ability to track the ball off the bat. Reacts better from an outfield corner than from center field. Fits best in right field with athleticism and arm strength. Grade – 50/50
Speed: Plus runner down the line and shows that in the field as well. Several scouts expressed concern over his long term speed if his lower half thickens up with physical maturity. May be able to maintain average speed if he focuses on his body. Good base running instincts help speed play extremely well and he should always be a threat to steal. Grade – 60/50
Summation: Chance to have five tools that play average or better at the big league level with the biggest question being the ultimate translation of the hit tool. Improved approach and contact rates in 2011 are a good sign but gains must be maintained at higher levels. Has instincts and baseball savvy to allow his speed and defense to play up even if the raw tools diminish some. Could be a potential 25 home run, 25 steal player with good defense from right field, making him an easy first division regular.
Relative Risk: High. Liriano breaks the top of this scale. Enormous bust potential with big tools and extremely raw disposition of those tools. Broad range of skills mitigates some risk but not all.
Future: After failing to get off the ground in High-A in 2011, Liriano will get another shot at the California League in 2012. The hope is that his game has evolved enough to allow him success there this year. If he performs better in the Cal League, the numbers could be huge and he could get a taste of Double-A before the end of the year. Regardless, I find it unlikely his big league ETA accelerates from 2015.