August 13, 2014
The Situation: The Padres announced on Monday that they were calling up outfield prospect Rymer Liriano, who checked in at no. 5 on our offseason Padres’ Top 10. To make room for Liriano, San Diego designated folk hero and professionally handsome man Jeff Francouer for assignment.
Background: Signed for $300,000 as an international free agent in the 2007 signing period, Liriano didn’t appear stateside until 2009 and didn’t appear on the pages of Baseball Prospectus until 2010. He’s shown a penchant for requiring a learning curve, with severe early struggles (and the occasional demotion) giving way to adaptation and improved production later on.
He saw Low-A Fort Wayne in two separate seasons, visited High-A Lake Elsinore three times, and stopped off at Double-A San Antonio twice. In the midst of all that, he required Tommy John surgery, which cost the promising prospect the 2013 season and the valuable development time it carried. He wasted no time getting back on track in 2014, recording a .264/.335/.442 slash line with 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases at Double-A. After a 16-game pit stop in Triple-A (.452/.521/.661), Liriano received the call to the major leagues more than seven years after signing.
The Scouting: Standing 6 feet, Liriano’s thick lower half belies his athletic ability. Listed at 230 lbs, he can fly down the line, displaying consistently plus speed. He flashes all five tools, with an emphasis on "flash." The arm is plus—more than enough to stick in even PETCO’s right field—and the glove is average. Inconsistency presides at the plate, where contact issues obfuscate plus raw power and mitigate his ability to hit for average.
While all five tools are present and accounted for, Liriano doesn’t make it look easy. He employs a full-effort swing that can open early and transfer his weight, rendering him unable to hold back on quality off-speed offerings; an issue for a player who has had trouble identifying breaking pitches in the past. While the swing isn’t overly long, there are holes on the inner third that can be exploited, and the standard “hard in, soft away” approach given to rookies could be enough to overwhelm in the early going. With a slight load and a small leg lift, Liriano generates above-average bat speed thanks to fast hands and excellent torque. When he makes contact, it’s hard contact, though the swing lacks the loft normally associated with power hitters. He has a chance to hit 20 home runs at the major-league level, but early on he’s likely to wear out the alleys rather than go over the fences. Despite his width, Liriano has the speed to swipe 25-plus bags annually, and is a career 74 percent basestealer, with that figure trending up to 78 percent over the last two (healthy) seasons.
Immediate Big League Future: While the mature body and requisite learning curve suggest less speed and more power as he ages, Liriano should be a solid source of both in the near and intermediate future. He should be a featured starter over the remaining slate of games as the Padres’ new front office determines what they have. His tools are loud, but Liriano’s ability to make adjustments is perhaps his greatest asset. So while an aggressive approach portends immediate struggles, his long-term outlook remains bright.
Fantasy Impact: It's understandable if you're undergoing prospect fatigue with Liriano. He burst onto the prospect radar in 2011, splitting time between Low- and High-A, slashing .298/.365/.465 between two levels. Returned to High-A in 2012, Liriano recorded a .298/.350/.417 slash line with 22 stolen bases, before a promotion to Double-A. He wasn't nearly as good in Double-A, and then missed 2013 with Tommy John surgery, a tough blow for a raw player deemed to need as much development time as possible. This season has been huge for Liriano in that respect, as he's been fully healthy and extremely productive across Double- and Triple-A, with a combined .292/.364/.476 slash line, 14 home runs, and 20 stolen bases. While his batting average has been inflated by his .467 average at Triple-A El Paso, all 14 homers were launched at Double-A San Antonio.
It's good to see Liriano back and productive, but he's still raw at the plate, striking out over 20 percent of the time at both levels this year, and only once dipping below that benchmark in his minor-league career. He's intriguing as a power/speed prospect, but is going to have plenty of swing-and-miss to his game. He should be more effective as a speed option early on, as contact woes and PETCO combine to dampen his power and as he adjusts to the major-league level.
While the Padres outfield is loaded in terms of numbers and wanting in terms of talent, Liriano should be on the field more often than not, if only to allow new GM A.J. Preller and his staff to get a read on where he fits into the club's future. If Liriano plays in something like 40 of the Padres' final 46 games, we're looking around 120-145 plate appearances. He has the ability to put up a .250 average with 7-10 stolen bases, and 2-5 home runs in that time. The contextual stats are going to be ugly given the lineup he'll be a part of, and outfield is one of the deeper positions out there (depending on your league setup).
Liriano is worth grabbing in just about all leagues 12-team mixed or deeper thanks to the upside he presents, though it's likely he'll be used as a bench option in most formats. If you're relying on Liriano, it's likely that he'll be too little, too late. A bid in the range of $14-16 dollars would be aggressive, but likely what's necessary to attain his services. Going higher isn't unreasonable, understanding he's unlikely to return value on the bid, but definitely could return value overall. As the season wanes, return on investment (in a $ sense) is less and less important. Liriano remains a high-risk/high-reward investment, and while his injury didn't rob him of his ceiling, his promotion doesn't rob him of his risk. He's best viewed as an asset in speed-based categories and a risk in everything else in the short term.