Rymer Liriano was pulled from his game in AAA El Paso on Sunday after only 2 at-bats. Apparently no one was on #HugWatch, because it took several hours for it to be announced that no, Liriano had not left the game with an injury, he was getting called up to the big leagues and will join the Padres in San Diego today. Let that be a lesson to everyone who attends baseball games: always be on #HugWatch.
After missing the entire 2013 season with Tommy John surgery, Rymer has fought back in 2014 to regain his status as one of the Padres top prospects. The Padres were conservative with him, having him repeat AA San Antonio as he worked his way back from injury, but after a mid-season promotion to AAA and his subsequent 1.182 OPS over 62 plate appearances, GM A.J. Preller’s first real move in the organization will be Liriano’s promotion to the big leagues.
It’s fitting that Liriano’s promotion is Preller’s first move. Rymer is the first graduate of the Padres’ Dominican facility to make the majors, and Preller is best known for his ability in scouting, acquiring, and developing international talent. Signed by the Padres way back in 2007 at 16, he started making real waves in 2012, ranking as a borderline top 50 prospect on Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com prior to the start of the season. He remained on MLB.com’s and Baseball Prospectus’ lists prior to 2013, ranking as high as 39th according to BP.
His lost season due to injury hurt his prospect status significantly. Coming into this year, he’d dropped out of the organization’s top 5 prospects on most lists, with only Padres Public’s own Padres Prospects still considering him the 2nd best prospect in the organization. He hasn’t made any significant top 100 lists this season, and if I had to guess, likely would rank somewhere in the 120-150 range if the lists went that far.
What Liriano has always had, and what he still has at age 23, is 5-tool potential. Of course, there’s a huge difference between being a 5-tool player and having 5-tool potential. He’s got a strong arm even after Tommy John surgery, so there’s one tool, and he’s got the speed to steal 20+ bases in a season, so there’s 2. His outfield defense in a corner position should be good enough, with his arm and speed helping him make up for average instincts. That’s 3.
The big 2 tools for a corner outfielder, of course, are hit and power. Having the other 3 is nice, but if you can’t hit for average and you don’t have any power, you’re on your way back to AAA in a hurry. Of course, these are Liriano’s biggest question marks. The big knocks on Rymer are that he’s never hit .300 or slugged .500 in full season baseball. He’s big and strong and has great bat speed, but it’s never translated into the production you’d like to see from a player like him.
That knock continues, even as he’s dominated AAA. Although he slugged .661 over 62 AB’s with 12 extra base hits, he hit zero home runs at the level. His 14 homers in AA this year are the most he’s ever hit in a season as a professional. He’s been known to put on a show in batting practice, but there’s a chance it will never translate in games. Then again, he’s still only 23.
It would be nice to see Liriano given a real shot for the rest of the year to see where he’s at and what he might be able to bring to the team in 2015, as the team should be desperately seeking offensive production. If he can be the starting right fielder in 2015, that means Preller and the Padres can focus on other pressing needs, like first base, third base, and possibly even shortstop, center field, and left field. The team’s got lots of holes and should have money to spend on filling them, but whatever they can fill from within would be huge.
There’s also no reason not to bring him up now versus waiting to start his clock until some time next season. He’s not a top prospect like Gregory Polanco or George Springer, and there’s no reason for the Padres to treat him like one. If he’s going to be an every day player next season, it makes no difference to his arbitration status whether he’s called up now, in September, or in April. The Padres will control him for 6 seasons, starting next year, whether he spends the rest of the year in the minors or the majors, so seeing what he’s got makes a lot of sense.
What we shouldn’t do with Liriano is set expectations. He’s potentially an exciting player, and Padres fans should definitely be rooting hard for him, but we don’t really know what he’s capable of, and we don’t really know what kind of player he’s going to become. He could be a major league regular, or he could be a AAAA player, bouncing back and forth between the minors and the majors.
There’s even a slight chance that he develops his natural power and becomes an all-star; a 20 homer/20 stolen base kind of player. That should not be the expectation, however. He’s not coming in to save the Padres. He’s not the #FinalPiece, just like Seth Smith never was. He’s a potential piece of a puzzle. Let’s enjoy seeing where he fits.
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