Latest Dominican wave led by Rymer Liriano

Rymer Liriano has a bright future with the San Diego Padres. (photo by Jeremy Knop)

Rymer Liriano started playing baseball at the age of six on the streets and sandlots of Santo Domingo. Obviously, this is not your typical T-Ball venue, nor the warm and fuzzy atmosphere it usually provides. If you’re a kid in the Dominican Republic, you’re either a good player or you go home.

Liriano, now 20, is the best outfielder in the San Diego Padres organization. The cliche, “five-tool player,” is grossly overused these days, but it’s really the only way to describe this 6′-0″, 210-pound athlete. Rymer is no Bryce Harper, but he’s one of the best young players I’ve personally seen.

At age 13, when most Dominican youngsters dream about playing in the big leagues, Liriano already caught the eye of a personal trainer and a three-year journey was about to begin.

“I had dreams, too,” recalls Liriano, “and I worked very hard toward my goals.”

In 2007 at age 16, Liriano signed with the Padres and received a $300M bonus, which meant security for his family in this poor island country. After a year of seasoning in the D.R., he excelled in the Arizona Rookie League in 2009, only to struggle the following year after three rapid promotions. It was last season’s success with the Fort Wayne TinCaps when Liriano emerged as a future star.

“I’m very proud of Rymer,” notes then-Fort Wayne manager Shawn Wooten. “He plays with so much passion, but he’s really grown up in terms of mental maturity.”

All Liriano did with the TinCaps was hit .319, including nine triples and 12 home runs, along with 68 stolen bases. That was good enough to earn him the Midwest League’s MVP honors. And to show that those numbers weren’t a fluke, Liriano had a terrific Cactus League spring with San Diego, going six-for-15 at the plate before being reassigned to the minor league camp.

Dominican players dominate the “Show,” and Liriano, in my opinion, is an upper-tier prospect. Rymer’s budding career has paralleled that of Miami Marlins top dog Marcell Ozuna, but he’s a better defender and has superior plate discipline. Liriano, ranked #49 in Baseball America’s prospect rankings, has more pop in his bat than Oscar Taveras of the St Louis Cardinals, who is rated #74 in the same poll. And Rymer has a higher ceiling than San Francisco Giants left fielder Francisco Peguero, who is three years older and possesses a weaker arm.

Randy Smith, who inked Liriano, along with Dominican super scout Felix Francisco are aware they have a potential superstar in the making. But the Padres have a crowded outfield at the moment, even with the absence of injured slugger Carlos Quentin, and there’s no reason to try to accelerate Liriano up the ladder.

“Liri is an immense talent and we don’t want to rush him,” says Smith, a Padre Vice President and Director of International Scouting.

Even with his successful spring, Liriano has no problem with that plan. He figures to start the season at high-A Lake Elsinore, and as he graduates through the ranks, wants to help the next crop of Dominican hopefuls.

“The Padres sign new guys over there all the time, and I’ve been in their shoes,” Rymer acknowledges. “I want to tell them to stay focused and don’t think negative things that will hurt their development.”

Advice like that shows how well Liriano has learned the mental aspect of the game, often the most difficult hurdle for young Latino players. Armed with that intelligence plus his physical ability, look for Liriano to be roaming the spacious outfield at PETCO Park for many years to come.

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