I watched Liriano on a regular basis in this season's Arizona Fall League. I have seen the power. I have witnessed the speed. I have come to appreciate his defense. His complete tool package was very evident.
Liriano had a really fine Fall League season. He hit .319 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 91 at-bats covering 22 games. He stole six bases and was caught twice. He had an on-base percentage of .376.
Liriano played errorless ball in the outfield. He played the majority of his games in right field, and two as a center fielder. He threw out three baserunners.
He also played in the Rising Stars Game, a showcase of top talent in the Arizona Fall League.
Liriano was signed by San Diego in the 2007 international free-agent signing period.
Now, still only 21 years old, and having already played parts of five seasons of Minor League baseball, Liriano is refining his game. His maturity and development are providing encouragement for a bright future.
On the way to an outstanding 2012 season and his exciting fall, Liriano experienced moments of success with a few hiccups along the way.
In the recent past, he fluctuated between Minor League classifications with in-season demotions, going from a higher classification to a lower one.
It is important that he emerged from those experiences a more complete player. He used the situations as opportunities to strengthen his overall game.
In 2011 for example, Liriano won the Most Valuable Player Award in the Midwest League following a return to Low-A Fort Wayne after scuffling to start the season at High-A Lake Elsinore.
This past season, Liriano competed in two Minor League classifications.
He hit .298 with five homers and 41 RBIs at Lake Elsinore and then .251 with three homers and 20 RBIs while finishing his season at Double-A San Antonio.
At 6 feet, 210 pounds, Liriano has tremendous raw power. He has a large trunk that helps generate strength in his swing. He is broad shouldered with an upper body that looks massive, but still may be accepting additional growth and maturation. More about that later.
Liriano is an aggressive hitter. He has a powerful swing that generates backspin and loft on the ball. The ball leaves his bat with a vicious thud at high speed, often finding gaps in all parts of the field.
For a man with a big swing, Liriano makes consistent contact and does not strike out quite as much as one might expect. He went to the plate 520 times this past season and struck out 119 times. He walked 41 times as well. His on-base percentage was .350.
Liriano probably flashed the best raw power of the hitters I saw in the Arizona Fall League. His challenge will be to build on the power and harness his aggressive approach.
There were times I saw Liriano reach for sliders down and out of the strike zone. I think his pitch recognition will improve with more exposure to quality breaking balls. However, there were several pitchers in the AFL with the ability to fool him with sliders and curve balls that were not strikes and that were outside his plate coverage. It's an area that he needs to refine. Once he recognizes the pitch, he will have to think quickly to let the pitch go if it's not a strike. If he continues to swing and miss, he will get himself out and the pitchers will prevail.
Make no mistake, Liriano can punish pitches that get too much of the plate or are within his wheelhouse. His hands are quick and strong against fastballs that he quickly recognizes.
Liriano plays his game with confidence. His baseball instincts and his fundamental skills project to an impact player. He is bordering on being a five-tool, middle-of-the-batting-order hitter.
Physically and talent wise, Liriano reminds some of Raul Mondesi, a very successful outfielder with a powerful and bulky body. Mondesi finished his career with a .273 batting average having played parts of 13 Major League seasons. He also hit 271 career home runs.
Liriano has more potential basestealing speed than Mondesi. In fact, Liriano might at some point hit 20-plus home runs and steal 15 to 20 bases a season.
Liriano is a good corner outfielder with a strong and accurate arm. He positions himself well before throwing, using solid mechanics that appear well advanced. He projects best as a right fielder.
Liriano can be a bit slow finding the ball off the bat. As a result, his routes are not always direct, but he gets to the ball in time. He has enough speed to close fast and make up for the time it takes to follow the trajectory of the ball.
The risk I see with Liriano is based upon his physical development.
I am concerned that he may become too large to move freely and quickly. I'm concerned his lower half will become thicker, slowing him down at the plate, on the bases and in the outfield. He must guard against the potential to get too large by staying in top condition from this day forward. I am confident he will do that.
While I don't think he is quite yet ready for a Major League role, I believe it won't be long before Liriano's game changing tools are on display in San Diego.