MiLB.com has three awards for Francisco Liriano: Overall Foreign-Born Player of the Year, Triple-A Starting Pitcher of the Year and Triple-A Foreign-Born Player of the Year. It's not difficult to figure out why.
Over 27 starts split between Double-A New Britain and Triple-A Rochester, the 21-year-old Dominican went 12-4 with a 2.63 ERA and a Minor League-leading 204 strikeouts over 167 2/3 innings.
It was the southpaw's performance with Rochester that really turned heads. Liriano was named the best starter in Triple-A on the strength of just 14 starts with the Red Wings.
During that span, Liriano went 9-2 with a 1.78 ERA, allowing 56 hits over 91 innings while striking out 112. Those sorts of stats will always win a player plenty of admirers, and you won't find one bigger than Rich Miller, Liriano's manager in Rochester this past season.
"Liriano is a kick-the-winning-field-goal kind of guy," Miller said. "He has great poise and never gets rattled if he's in a jam. He's quiet, well prepared and not boisterous or flamboyant. His hat is always going to fit."
These qualities, coupled with prodigious pitching talent, make Liriano a force to be reckoned with on the mound. Between July 19 and Aug. 9, the lefty reeled off five straight wins, allowing one earned run on 14 hits over 36 innings. His best outing of the season came during this span, on Aug. 4 against the powerful Buffalo Bisons. Over seven shutout innings, Liriano struck out 13 while yielding just one hit.
"I know (Buffalo manager) Marty Brown didn't want to see him again," Miller recalled. "Buffalo was a team that would flat-out kill us, but Liriano put a stop to that."
Miller was understandably hesitant to compare Liriano to pitchers who have excelled in the Major Leagues, but couldn't resist mentioning one of the game's all-time greats.
"I'd compare his slider to that of Steve Carlton's, it's that good," Miller said. "He's got a plus-fastball and an outstanding changeup as well. What he needs to work on is getting ahead in the count, so that he can use the slider more often."
Liriano cooled off somewhat in the Major Leagues after a September callup to the Minnesota Twins, going 1-2 with a 5.70 ERA over six appearances. Although he didn't have command of his fastball the way he did at the Triple-A level, he still managed to strike out 33 in 23 2/3 innings.
Still, his 2005 numbers virtually assure Liriano of a roster spot with the Twins next season. And Miller has full confidence in him.
"Now that he's had a taste of the big leagues, he knows what to expect. I don't foresee a sophomore jinx. Liriano's just going to go out there and get the job done."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.