On Friday, the Padres designated outfielder and former top prospect Rymer Liriano for assignment after they announced the signing of free agent shortstop Alexei Ramirez. The move continued a trend of GM A.J. Preller jettisoning prospects that were present before he took over following the 2014 season. Liriano is out of options and didn't have a clear route to playing time at the MLB level in 2016 with Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Jon Jay, Melvin Upton Jr, Alex Dickerson, and Rule 5 pick Jabari Blash ahead of him on the depth chart and he'll now need to be traded or placed on waivers sometime before February 1st.
One might wonder why this should have any affect on the Brewers, who are currently brimming with outfielders on their 40 man roster. Liriano, who'll turn 25 next season, does however come with quite a reputation as a prospect. Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com both ranked him as a top-60 prospect across the league before the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Liriano ended up missing all of the 2013 season with Tommy John surgery, but at the time he was DFA'd he was still ranked as the Padres #13 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline. He displays good speed and is an above average defender with a plus arm even after going under the knife, who collected seven outfield assists last year. He's got 213 appearances in center field and could perhaps be seen as an everyday option there. He has however played predominantly in right field with 435 appearances and has also played 65 games in left, meaning he could also function as a versatile backup off the bench.
MLB Pipeline grades his hit tool as average with a 45 grade for power, though their write up suggests he could be a 20-20 type player in a hitter friendly ballpark. Fangraphs grades his game power with 50+ potential and his raw power at a 60.
Liriano has backed up the high praise of his tools with strong results at the two highest levels of the minor leagues. He's posted a cumulative .260/.335/.421 slash with 17 home runs and 27 stolen bases in 152 games in AA. In his first extended exposure to AAA as a 24 year old last season, he hit .292/.383/.460 with 14 home runs and 18 steals in 131 games. That was good enough for a 128 wRC+.
Liriano does have a brief track record in the big leagues, albeit not a pretty one. He received a 38 game call-up in 2014 and managed only a .555 OPS and 62 wRC+ in 121 plate appearances. He struck out in 32.2% of his plate appearances during his limited time in the big leagues, though he has always struggled with strikeouts and owns a 24.2% K rate during his minor league career. Those same swing-and-miss tendencies are what call into question whether he'll be able to put the ball in play enough to tap into his power, though he does also show a decent eye at the plate and has an 8.9% career walk rate.
At this point in the rebuild the Brewers' main focus needs to be stock piling potential future assets, no matter what position those players might occupy. Slingin' David Stearns has done a terrific job of adhering to that approach throughout the offseason. Rymer Liriano might never actualize his tools into becoming the starting-caliber MLB outfielder he has the potential to be. But soon to be just 25 years old and with that type of upside, it's an easy call to determine that he would be a risk worth taking for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Stearns has already executed a similar move this winter by acquiring infielder and former top prospect Garin Cecchini for cash considerations after he was designated for assignment by the Red Sox. Liriano would provide another potentially high-upside outfield option to the stable of Phillips, Coulter, Reed, Santana, Broxton, Taylor, etc that are currently in the in the upper levels of the system and only further enhance the chances that the Brewers hit on multiple players that will actualize their talent at the major league level.
Liriano is out of options, yes, so he would have to make the team out of spring training lest he be exposed to waivers once again. However, Kirk Neiwuenhuis and Shane Peterson are both in that same position and neither look to be a part of the long-term future in Milwaukee. It's easy to imagine that either of their spots on the currently full 40 man roster could be deemed expendable to add a player like Liriano to the fold. It's also reasonable to think that either of those two players would have a good chance to be able to be successfully passed through waivers and outrighted to the minors, so there's the chance that even if an addition was made they could still be around to be given the opportunity to compete for a job as a non-roster invitee in spring training.
Rymer Liriano would have to earn his spot on the 2016 Brewers, but he represents another low-risk, high-reward opportunity for the Milwaukee Brewers and there is little downside in attempting to acquire him. Give him a shot to win a job in spring and if he can't, cut him loose. If Liriano makes it to the fifth spot in the NL waiver order where the Brewers are currently positioned, I would not at all be surprised if Slingin' Stearns made the move to aqcuire him.
(Ed.Note: Waiver priority in this case goes first to NL teams with the worst 2015 record so the Phillies, Reds, Braves, and Rockies get dibs on Liriano before the Brewers)
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs