Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: October 26, 1983
When Liriano was just starting his professional baseball career he was actually an outfielder in the San Francisco Giants farm system. Oh how times have changed, as he is now the top starting pitching prospect in the Twins' organization, and is on the brink of earning a spot in the Twins' rotation. A lefty with a powerful arm, Liriano had a roller coaster 2005 season, and is bound for stardom.
Looking back, the trade that brought Liriano to the Twins is like highway robbery. In exchange of A.J. Pierzynski (who now plays for the Chicago White Sox), the Twins got an all-star closer in Joe Nathan, Boof Bonser, who is having an incredible season for the Rochester Red Wings, and Liriano, who will give the Twins the best lefty-lefty starters in the Majors in the coming years. Though he missed parts of his three seasons in the Giants' system with shoulder problems, he has been healthy since joining the Twins, and we can only hope that it stays that way.
Liriano made his Twins debut in 2004 as a member of the Fort Myers Miracle, although he finished that season in Double-A New Britain. For the Miracle, he made 21 starts, striking out 125 batters in 117 innings of work. The Twins felt that he was ready for Double-A ball, and he posted some solid numbers during his late season call-up.
For the Rock Cats that season, he made seven starts, posting a 3.17 earned run average along the way. He won three games, struck out better than a batter per inning, and really did not look overmatched in his first stint with the Cats. Still, the Twins felt he should begin the 2005 season back in New Britain, but it was a season that would end with him being one of the best prospects in Minor League Baseball, and a call-up to the Minnesota Twins.
He made 13 starts for New Britain last season, but showed that he was extremely dominant and the Twins figured he could handle a call-up to Triple-A Rochester. For New Britain, he struck out 92 batters in 70 innings, displaying one of the best arsenals in the Eastern League. However, it was when he was called up to Rochester that his star really began to shine, and he now may be the best left-handed pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Once he was promoted to the International League, Liriano embarrassed IL hitters. In 14 starts, he posted a miniscule ERA of 1.78, while striking out 112 batters in 91 innings of work. Walking only 24 batters, he posted a 9-2 record, while handcuffing batters to the tune of a .177 average against him.
For his efforts, he was named the No. 1 prospect in the Eastern League, the No. 2 prospect in the International League, and was one of the top five prospects in all of baseball. He also led the Minor Leagues in strikeouts, was named International League Rookie of the Year, and was voted by Baseball America as being the best prospect in the Twins' organization.
In September of 2005, Liriano made his Major League debut, and actually started four games for the Twins. Though he posted a 5.70 earned run average, he did strike out 33 batters in only 24 innings of work, and showed that he was ready to open the 2006 campaign in the Big Leagues.
So far this season, Liriano has appeared exclusively out of the bullpen, posting a 4.24 ERA in ten appearances. He still continues to be a powerful strikeout pitcher, striking out 25 batters already this season, in only 17 innings of work.
Repertoire.Fastball, Slider, Changeup
Fastball. If you were to compare Liriano's fastball to a force of nature, it would definitely be a lightning bolt. This guy can bring it, and he has shown the ability to throw mid-90s for long stretches of time. While his fastball sits in the mid-90s range, he has been known to crank it up to 98 miles per hour on some occasion, and it is currently ranked as the best heater in the Twins' organization. There are times when he does not trust his fastball, but when does and it is working, he can be almost unhittable.
Other Pitches:Aside from having the best fastball in the Twins' organization, Liriano also possesses the best slider in the organization. His slider is a hard, sharp slide-piece, which can get all the way up to 90 miles per hour. Add to that a changeup that some have rated as a plus-pitch, and you have one of the better three-pitch arsenals around. When all of his pitches are working, and he has complete command and confidence in them, Liriano has the kind of stuff that No-Hitters are made of.
Pitching.Liriano is a good kid, who is takes criticism the right way. He has a strong work ethic and once his delivery kinks were worked out, he really took off as a player. He is also a bulldog on the mound, who loves to go deep into ballgames. The fact that he has kept him mouth shut when everyone else in America knows he should be in the starting rotation also shows what kind of person he is. The only time he falters is when he loses confidence in his stuff, which is something he is going to have to work on if he is going to become a Number 1 pitcher.
Projection.If there were any pitcher in the Minor Leagues that showed he has the ability to be a number 1 starter in the Major Leagues it was Liriano. That is what the Twins have him penciled in to be, and that is what he will be. While it is hard to say "Number 1" because the Twins have one of the best pitchers in baseball on their staff, Liriano and Johan Santana could be twin-Aces for many years to come.
ETA. 2006 (second-time). While Liriano got a cup of tea in 2005, the 2006 season is a huge one for him. He has been used out of the bullpen to start the year, but with the way the Twins' pitching staff is pitching presently, he could be penciled into the rotation very soon. When that happens, it will be a long time until Liriano is not pitching every fifth day. He is a sure-fire Major League talent, and has the ability to win 20 games one day.