Liotta one of the Sox 'Goodfellas'

Liotta one of the Sox 'Goodfellas'

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Mention the name Ray Liotta to White Sox fans, and there probably will be more than a few blank stares returned as an answer.

For those more discerning White Sox supporters, who are familiar with the entire organization, they would know a thing or two about one of the rising young pitching prospects from the Minor League system.

But it's more likely the name Ray Liotta will evoke responses such as Shoeless Joe Jackson or Henry Hill, not to mention the movies "Field of Dreams" or "Goodfellas." Don't forget a tremendous portrayal of Frank Sinatra in the HBO movie "The Rat Pack."

All of these characters are listed on the extensive resume of Ray Liotta, the talented actor. Ray Liotta, the pitcher, currently making his first appearance at Major League Spring Training, still is trying to build up his own list of personal accomplishments.

"My goal is to just get better, locate pitches and learn more about how to pitch," said Liotta, who turns 23 on April 3, speaking in front of his locker stall in the White Sox clubhouse at the Kino Sports Complex, sandwiched between Minor League catcher Donny Lucy and batting practice pitcher Kevin Hickey.

"But it's really awesome being a part of this, especially with the White Sox coming off their World Series title," Liotta added. "Being able to practice and work out with all of the big leaguers, it's just great."

Liotta was selected in the second round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, a year in which the White Sox stockpiled southpaws. His 2002 numbers at Tulane University weren't exactly a perfect harbinger of greatness to come, as Liotta finished with a 2-5 record and 7.50 ERA over 13 games.

After being redshirted by the Green Wave in 2003, Liotta made a move to Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Fla., that would change his baseball fortunes. Liotta was named 2004 Panhandle Conference Pitcher of the Year, by virtue of his 8-4 record, 2.40 ERA and 117 strikeouts and 26 walks in 93 2/3 innings. Liotta also joined the lineage of former Major Leaguers, such as Hall of Fame hurler Don Sutton, pitcher Curtis Leskanic and infielder Frank Mennechino, who played for this particular junior college.

"I really got a lot of help there in fixing my mechanics," Liotta said of pitching for Gulf Coast Community College.

Since joining the White Sox, Liotta has been nothing but productive -- bordering on truly outstanding. He finished 5-1 with a 2.54 ERA for Great Falls in 2004 and posted a combined 14-5 mark last season, exclusively as a starter, in stops with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem. Liotta had a miniscule 1.45 ERA during eight starts covering 49 2/3 innings in the Carolina League, and fanned 144 while walking 51 in 165 combined innings.

Adding a changeup to his average fastball and above-average curve has helped make Liotta a far above-average member of the White Sox organization. He is one of nine left-handers currently in camp with the White Sox, but his assignment is more for experience and not really about earning one of the remaining spots in the team's bullpen.

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"If he was to come in here and kill it, he's still going back to the Minors," said White Sox director of player development Dave Wilder. "But if something happens during the course of the year, he will be in Double-A, and who knows?

"He's a left-handed pitcher who has been a winner from Day 1 and does all the little things. He's a little under the radar, but in any other organization, where he's won [19] games in two years, they would be talking about him as a top prospect.

"We don't have to talk about him," Wilder said. "He'll be in the big leagues and help us win. He fits in as a starter for an upper-division club."

Liotta also has a story that extends deeper than just his impressive baseball results. His family lives in Kenner, La., located just eight miles west of New Orleans. His parents' house took in about three inches of water in the horrific floods following Hurricane Katrina, but they feel very blessed considering the absolute devastation that befell that great city.

In order to help his parents renovate the bottom floor of the house, tearing out walls and cabinets, Liotta drove in from the East after his season ended with Winston-Salem. The emptiness he witnessed along this route left Liotta in utter amazement.

"There was nothing," Liotta said. "There was no electricity. It's just empty. There's nobody there until you get to the west side. It's amazing being from where I grew up, seeing the city from where it is.

"I went driving when I first got home, and right where the levee broke on 17th Street, it's just ridiculous as to how houses are pushed off their slabs and they look like bowling pins basically. It's crazy.

"We got real lucky," added Liotta, whose family lives in a higher area than New Orleans. "We could have lost everything or not have been allowed to rebuild, as happened in certain areas."

The tragedy in New Orleans puts fame and fortune in perspective for Liotta. For the record, Ray Liotta III, the pitcher, is related to Ray Liotta, the famous actor -- he is a distant cousin on his dad's side of the family. The irony is not lost on the pitcher that his cousin, the actor who his dad met at a couple of family functions years ago, portrayed one of the more infamous characters in the history of the organization for whom he currently is trying to earn a living.

Baseball might soon have greater name recognition with Ray Liotta than the silver screen, if the younger Liotta continues progressing as he has. Until that point, Liotta is content to absorb what information he can as he prepares for the future.

"Things clicked for me last year, and I have a better understanding of how to pitch and locate my pitches," Liotta said. "I'll wait my turn and worry about what I'm doing. Just try to stay consistent, and sooner or later, it will pay off."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.