Liriano showing progress in Triple-A
Twins hope this season is sign of things to come for lefty
When injuries hit the Minnesota pitching staff this season, the Twins, like any organization, saw a trickle-down effect throughout its upper Minor League affiliates. Pitchers were promoted to fill spots that became available because of injuries, and one of those hurlers was Francisco Liriano.
The young southpaw had been enjoying success with New Britain of the Eastern League, striking out 94 and posting a 3.78 ERA. While he was only 3-6, his record was not indicative of how well he was pitching, so Minnesota had no problems moving him up to Triple-A Rochester when the opportunity presented itself.
Liriano is faring just as well with the Red Wings, going 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in four starts. The Twins are certainly pleased with what they've seen so far and are anxious to see Liriano on a bigger stage Sunday when he participates in the XM Satellite Radio Futures Game as part of the World Team.
"We always try to challenge these guys," Minnesota's Minor League Director Jim Rantz said. "He's one of those guys holding his own and showing progress. We did push him up because of injuries. It happened quicker than we thought it would, but he certainly deserves it. He's shown he can handle the higher level.
"At New Britain he was averaging a strikeout an inning, and his walks were under control. We're hoping he will be in our plans for a starting position next year or at least challenge for the Major Leagues. Where he tops off this year, I don't know. He is on the 40-man [roster] so we'll see if we can get him confidence at Triple-A, then go from there."
The Twins acquired Liriano in the A.J. Pierzynski deal a few years back and, at the time, it didn't look like it would lead to much. Though he showed promise while pitching in the San Francisco system, injuries limited him to 36 appearances over three seasons. Liriano finally broke out last season with Ft. Meyers, though, staying healthy throughout the Florida State League season, during which he appeared in 21 games and fanned 125 in 117 innings before adding another 39 2/3 innings at New Britain.
Liriano is a solid three-pitch pitcher whose fastball checks in around the mid-90s. He has a solid changeup, which he mixes in well.
"Obviously, No. 1, he's left-handed," Rantz said. "No. 2, he has a very good arm, and at a very young age he has a good mix and can hit 96. That's all the things you look for in a starting pitcher. Hopefully one day he'll be one of our five starters in the big leagues.
"I saw him at a very young age, and he didn't pitch much in the lower Minors with San Francisco. I don't know if he had arm issues, but he joined us and we got him during that first year in Ft. Myers, he threw 117 innings. He had good stuff and being left-handed, you're always looking for someone like that."
Barring injury, Liriano figures to pitch more than that this season. He started the year out by getting a taste of big-league camp and is now moving along quickly. He keeps proving himself, and the Twins couldn't be happier.
"He's by no means a polished or finished pitcher," Rantz said. "We knew we wanted to get him out of Double-A because that's where he finished up last year. We hoped he would dominate so we could move him up, and that's what happened.
"And now he's in the Futures Game, which we think is an honor. It's not only the experience but the hoopla of pitching in that setting. Most of these guys have never been in a big-league park. To see that competition that's on the horizon, we treat this very seriously."
Kevin T. Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.