Name: Rymer Liriano
DOB: June 20, 1991
Signed on July 2, 2007 as an international free agent, Liriano was not allowed to play in 2007 as a 16-year-old. His debut came the following year in the Dominican Summer League.
Liriano hit .198 across 67 games for the DSL Padres in 2008. Twenty-three of his 46 hits went for extra-bases, including a new DSL Padres team-record nine homers. Liriano also stole nine bases in 14 attempts. Despite netting just 46 hits, he did have 37 RBI, as he hit .268 with runners on base. He also showed signs of progress through the year, hitting .254 in August after batting just .179 through the first two months of the season.
The outfielder struck out 106 times while drawing just 28 walks for a .296 on-base percentage. He ended up fanning in 45.7 percent of his at-bats.
One year later, he was in the states. Playing for the AZL Padres, Liriano hit .350 across 50 games with 17 extra-base hits. He also scored 44 runs and notched 44 RBI while alternating between the cleanup spot and five-hole in the lineup.
As was the case as the year before, Liriano smoked the ball at a .413 clip with runners in scoring position as opposed to his .289 average with the bases empty.
"The total success that he has had this year was the ability to get better pitches to hit and to me was the identification of a breaking ball; the breaking ball within the strike zone and the breaking ball that he couldn't handle," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "He started to take and lay off those breaking balls that he definitely couldn't hit or would swing and miss, especially with two strikes.
"Confidence grows out of that, and when you can put a breaking ball in play and be successful, not every at-bat, but now and then, you earn the right to get more fastballs, and that's what he did."
He also posted a 15-to-52 walk-to-strikeout ratio for a .398 on-base percentage. While the low walk totals were not desired, his ability to cut down on the strikeout improved tremendously and got better as the season progressed. He ended up fanning in 26.3 percent of his at-bats, nearly half as often as the season prior.
"He definitely did the last third of the season," former AZL Padres and current Fort Wayne hitting coach Bob Skube said of Liriano cutting down his strikeouts. "His strikeouts went way down. He probably did go down in homers a little bit too. Just from the beginning of the year till the end. Cut back on the homers and cut back on the strikeouts. That's kind of the way it goes anyways.
"But there's a guy that hit .189 last year, came in and really dominated this year. A lot of things that you know don't get noticed by the normal person watching the games. He really improved as far as a hitter goes... he's always going to hit the five-hole, three-hole, in that range. And learned how to take the breaking ball and stay off of it and get fastballs to hit. He did a very good adjustment at that."
He ended the season placed fifth in batting average, second in home runs (8), third in RBI, third in hits (69), third in total bases (103), and fourth in homers per at-bat (1/24.63). Liriano also stole 14 bases in 19 attempts and notched a 14-game hitting streak during the season. His .445 BABIP was the second best mark in the Arizona Rookie League while his 44.6 wRC (weighted Runs Created) placed him fourth.
"I think a lot has to do with patience and understanding of what the program is all about," former AZL Padres and current Fort Wayne manager Jose Flores said. "About the patiently, aggressive program that we preach to all of our rookies and all of our organization.
"I think the more and more we had one-on-ones with him as far as the hitting approach and the hitting program, the more and more he understood it. And I think the scenarios on situational hitting dictated what pitches he wanted to swing at. I think that helped him lay off some real good pitches that he probably would have swung at at the beginning of the year and last year when he was in the Dominican. So the kid came along.
"He hit over .330 all year. He didn't go below .330 all year. Look at his numbers from the Dominican last year and this year. He's just a different ballplayer."
Just 18 years old with two years of experience already under his belt, Liriano has come far in a short span. He still has a learning curve but the signs have all been positive.
"Pitch recognition and plate discipline," director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "He's a young one. It's just a matter of him laying off the breaking ball. He started hitting some breaking balls out of the ball park. He started to hit breaking balls the other way. He still needs to cut down on the strikeouts and improve the walk rate, but the year he put up for a young 18-year-old, pretty darn good year."
Liriano has light-tower power that is a plus-plus tool.
Few can turn on the inside fastball as beautifully as Liriano does. It isn't just that. He has power to all fields, taking one the opposite way with lasers just as easily as he yanks one down the line. Liriano has the potential to hit 40 homers annually that can provide damage every time he steps into the box.
Along with the power comes an abundance of strikeouts. Pitch recognition and strike zone awareness will be crucial to his contact ability. He is aggressive by nature and may never draw a plethora of walks, but given his power, Liriano should be someone who is more adept at waiting for his pitch to drive. He can change the game with one swing and must let the pitcher make a quality pitch rather than beating himself.
Liriano gets good separation and load with his swing, providing his ultra-quick hands and wrists a solid path through the hitting zone. The right-handed hitter waves his bat around pre-load, which can make for erratic placement of his bat before exploding forward. That makes his bat path different at times.
Incredibly strong with a frame that can add more muscle, Liriano creates backspin and loft with a slight uppercut in his swing. His penchant for hard contact gives the ball a different sound coming off his bat.
Learning to stay away from the tough off-speed pitches has been a two-year strategy. He improved in that area during 2009 but still has ways to go. His ability to put learned lessons into application has been solid, showing maturity beyond his years. If there is a pitch within what he believes to be his hitting zone, however, he will let loose.
"For him, it's just the mental side of the game and maturity," Flores said. "I saw him for the first time last year in the Dominican instructional league, the first name that came to mind was a young Sammy Sosa. It doesn't mean he could hit 60 Homers, but he's got that body. People have told me that he's bigger now than Sammy was at his age so I can imagine how much bigger and probably stronger Liriano is going to get in the years that are coming.
"The kid's impressive. The maturity part again, he's going to have to grow on that, but the kid's an athlete. He can play. He can do it all.
"And to me, outside of Decker he was my player. As much as frustrated as he can get you, the kid can play. He hustles his butt off. He works hard, he does all the extra things he needs to do to get better. The kid is a workaholic."
Waiting back on pitches has also been in the cards, as he tended to get too far out on his front foot, sapping his power. Given the electricity in his bat, it was a matter of teaching him that he could wait a little longer before committing to a pitch.
Besides being a plus hitter with average and power that projects well, Liriano is also an above-average runner. He has enough speed to be a perennial stolen base threat but needs to learn the nuances of the running game – when to steal, what to look for from a pitcher, how to take advantage of timing to home plate, etc. Once he puts all of those pieces together, Liriano will be able to take bases at will – although his true value remains in the box.
Liriano also has the makings of a plus defensive player. Like his base running, he is not as sound understanding situational play. He has an above-average arm and good range but needs to enhance his knowledge of the game. Throwing to the right base, making the smart play instead of the heroic one, and route running to be in the best position are just a few traits that need to be ironed out.
"The kid's got power," Flores began. "He's got size. He can run, he can throw. To me he's like a five-tool player. I've never been around someone who has that potential. And this kid has them all. Power, run, throw, field."
"He's always been one of our most physically developed players in terms of speed and strength," former vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He's really more of a corner outfielder that can play center, and I think being there a lot this summer really helped his game. It is really rare to see someone hit the way he did, with the power that he has, at such a young age. He has a very good arm for right field, above average runner and made immense improvements in letting the ball travel to him at the plate; before he was a little out in front. There is an emotional side to him that we still have to get our hands around and that is really the only limitation to his potential."
"To me, the tools and the numbers, none of that stuff really surprises me because this guy from the time we signed him was a five-tools, pretty special, physical guy," Smith said.
Conclusion: Liriano is an impact bat that will go as far as the stick takes him. He has proven to be an adept learner and must continue the maturation process. A lot of the learning has to do with the situational game in hitting, fielding and running. Once he masters that and begins really understanding the strike zone, adding to his walk totals, Liriano can be an impact bat in the middle of a major league lineup with All-Star ability. He has a chance to be the top prospect in the organization – he is that good.
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