If you follow Orioles spring training just close enough, you’ll many times find storylines worth keeping an eye on throughout the month of March. Admittedly, it’s tough to watch baseball and realize that neither team genuinely cares about winning or losing, but spring baseball is much more than the final result.
Think Joey Rickard and his brilliant 2016 exhibition campaign. In a world of otherwise monotonous baseball play, Rickard made the spring exciting — providing just enough intrigue for us fans to hang tough until Opening Day.
This year the spring is following a similar pattern, especially with the extended schedule due to the World Baseball Classic. And thus far, the must-watch standout youngster hasn’t broken onto the scene.
It might not happen in Rickard-fashion in 2017, but that doesn’t mean this roster is void of potential.
If you’re looking for the dark horse candidate to make an impact this season, I happily direct you to reliever Jesus Liranzo.
You’ve probably at least heard of Liranzo’s name, however it’s possible you haven’t due to MLB.com’s glaring omission of his talent on their Orioles top 30 prospects list. The 21-year-old deserves to be spotlighted as one of the best young arms in the organization, and for good reason.
In 2016, splitting time with Delmarva (34.1 IP) and Bowie (18.2 IP) in relief, the right-hander was able to keep opponents to just a .116 average, just 20 hits in those 53 innings.
Walks were a slight issue, but nowhere near the glaring concern as the O’s “number 10 prospect” Tanner Scott — yeah, I have some issues with that one.
With Liranzo, last season was the Orioles’ first real look at the reliever who was fully healthy and able to play a full year in affiliated ball. Clearly, he turned heads, as the team elevated him onto the 40-man roster in a move protecting him from the Rule-5 Draft, as Roch Kubatko mentioned last week.
In that same MASN article, Caleb Joseph had a glowing review. He touted Liranzo’s slider and ability to be a bit deceptive, but also underscored what he saw as perhaps his most impressive trait, fastball command:
“I think mainly the thing I was most impressed with was his fastball command. You just don’t see that from more of a hard thrower. I hear he can get up there in the fives, sixes, sevens and even eights. And I was very impressed. For a young kid like that, normally they come out and they’re throwing BBs all over the place, but their location is not as good.
“I’m excited. He seems like a really nice pickup for us. I’m glad he’s on our side.”
If the main issue in ‘16 was a few too many free passes, and Joseph says the command is plus, is there any reason we’d be omitting the young righty from top prospect status?
I’m not here to proclaim Liranzo is the next Zach Britton. Heck, I’ve never seen the guy pitch live before. But when you add it all up, it’s difficult to not be intrigued.
One of the things I noticed in that short clip above was the fact that Liranzo just looks like a pitcher. Yeah, that’s corny and quite frankly a pretty terrible statement in published analysis (if you can call four pitches off a mound in minicamp analysis). However, he does seem to fit the mold. A sturdy lower half and a smooth delivery are good things to have.
I’ll let Buck Showalter put it more eloquently in this quote from back in January via Eduardo Encina at The Sun:
“He’s an interesting guy, especially when you think he’s only going to pitch at 22 this year,” Showalter said. “He’s basically a college senior coming out. He’s got a good arm. He’s got those high legs and the big hands and all the things that, if you were a scout and walked in, that guy would get your attention. He’s got a good feel for pitching. Everybody likes him. Our guys have done a great job with some of the physical issues that he’s had when he got here and it looks like that’s behind him, knock on wood.”
Buck is referring to a prior elbow injury that occurred a few years back, a fracture that led to a lost 2014 season.
According to the link above from MASN last spring, Liranzo worked his fastball up to 97 miles per hour, regularly sitting in the mid-90s. Add that to the list of eyebrow-raising aspects of his game.
We’ve just scratched the surface, but there’s reason to believe Liranzo is one of the best young arms in the organization, despite the lack of national attention he’s receiving.
Anyone who receives high praise from Showalter is going to be on my radar. And if he’s intriguing enough for the skipper, he should be watched with optimism throughout the rest of spring training.