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After his 2006 season it seemed certain that Francisco Liriano would never again be put into the category of a sleeper pick. However, after his 2009 performance (5.80/4.87 ERA/FIP) that is exactly what he is. In fact, most owners have been down on him according to early mock drafts. But that is changing, mostly due to Liriano's stunning performance in the Dominican Winter League for Leones del Escogido. Dominican League statistics are hard to come by but at the end of last week Liriano was in the midst of an impressive streak that included 26 and 2/3 scoreless innings and 35 strikeouts in 27 and 2/3 innings. Last night he struck out 10 batters over five scoreless innings against Gigantes del Cibao to claim the Dominican League title in the deciding ninth game of the series at Julian Javier Stadium in San Francisco de Macorís. He allowed just one hit and improved to 3-1 with a 0.49 ERA. This brought his season totals to 47 strikeouts in just 37 innings.
If I was ever off Liriano's bandwagon, I am clearly back on it. In 2009 Liriano suffered through what the Minnesota Twins labeled Elbow Fatigue, which led to some swelling in his forearm, that led to his DL stint. Some player take more time than others to recover from injury. It is very possible that Liriano simply came back too soon, and put too much stress on his Tommy John repaired elbow. This season he will be more than two years removed and judging by his recent performances in the Dominican he has got that special something back. Combine this good news with the Twins' improved infield defense and the new stadium (with real grass) that should benefit pitchers and the possibilities are soaring.
However owners should still exercise caution in drafting Liriano, who has to be considered injury prone. Still, he should be squarely in every owner's radar. When you're considering the John Maines, Aaron Harangs, and for your fantasy roster you may want to check on the availibility of the Twins young lefty first.
Other opinions on Francisco Liriano:
David Golebiewski of Fangraghs.com - Don’t forget Liriano. Exasperating as he is, he figures to post an ERA in the low-to-mid four’s in 2010. He’ll be back. That fastball needs an upgrade, however, if he hopes to terminate opposing batters.
Tim Brown of Yahoo.com - While at first glance the White Sox and Tigers have the better starting rotations in the Central, Francisco Liriano will be pivotal. Reports out of the Dominican Republic say Liriano has regained his velocity and the late bite on his slider. The Twins are eager to see for themselves. In the meantime, he’s behind Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Carl Pavano, and battling Brian Duensing and Glen Perkins for the fifth place in the rotation.
NBC Sports/ Rotoworld - Liriano looked incredibly sharp, hitting 95 MPH consistently with his fastball and displaying a tight break on his slider. The 26-year-old lefty had a lousy 2009 campaign, but the Twins have to be pleased with the way he looked tonight. Liriano should have no trouble climbing back into the club's starting rotation with a strong spring and is quickly turning into a legitimate fantasy sleeper. We all know what kind of dominance he's capable of.
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