Francisco Liriano has two starts remaining before the non-waiver trade deadline, and with his impressive performance over the last few weeks it's not unfathomable to think that when he takes the hill tonight to take on the White Sox it could be his last appearance in a Twins uniform. The enigmatic port-sider is drawing interest from quite a few teams, as we saw just a few of days ago, and the number one contender still appears to be the Angels.
Torii Hunter on Francisco Liriano: "He’s been on our radar the last two years. Liriano would be pretty good. They like Liriano over here."— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 23, 2012
While it's difficult to take what Torii Hunter says at face value (again: just a few days ago), Morosi backs up the quote from Hunter (also a week old) with this full entry where he states Minnesota's "need to accumulate power arms for the future".
After the jump I'll go through a few pitchers the Twins might like to target from the Angels, if they do indeed move Liriano to Los Angeles and do indeed desire pitching in return.
Nick Maronde, LHP
Org Prospect Rank: 5
Maronde was the Angels' third round pick in the 2011 draft, and he's performed very well so far in spite of starting when he graduated college as a relief pitcher. In 23 starts he's accumulated 107.1 innings, striking out 111, walking 31, and allowing just 73 hits.
This scouting report lists his slider as his best pitch, but it's backed up by a very good moving fastball. He's expected to move quickly, so it wouldn't be a stretch to say he'd be ready for a cup of coffee with a Major League team at some point in 2013. Could the Twins reach so high as to grab Maronde? If they did it would constitute a big upgrade for the rotation and the future of the organization. He alone could be too much for Liriano, but it all depends on how badly the Angels want to win this season, and the Twins could always pitch his upside as a reliever. Relievers, obviously, aren't as valuable.
Maronde finished his college career at Florida as an effective reliever, but the Angels are letting him start, at least for the time being. He does have the power stuff to work in the bullpen if needed, with a plus fastball that moves well and a plus slider when he’s locked in. His changeup needs work and he will need to improve that if he wants to start long term. His command is pretty good and he’s shown an aptitude for making adjustments, all good things for a future member of a rotation, though having knowledge of success as a power-armed lefty reliever isn’t a bad thing, either. Maronde rejoined Class A Advanced Inland Empire after a rehab stint to recover from a strained lat.
Daniel Tillman, RHP
Org Prospect Rank: 6
Tillman is getting old for his level, but he's dominating as a relief pitcher. At least, at High-A he is. Tillman started the year at Double-A, was shelled, and was demoted. In spite of his current performance, I see Tillman as a nice add-on to a bigger package. He's nothing like a centerpiece.
He does possess a fantastic slider, already a strikeout pitch, but since moving to the bullpen has apparently abandoned his changeup and as a result is solely a fastball-slider guy. Luckily, both pitches seem to be a plus. From the Angels' official site:
Tillman saved 25 games in his last two years at Florida Southern and after a brief stint of starting, he returned to a closing role with the Angels in 2011. His power stuff and attitude on the mound are well suited for the role, and he could start moving quickly as a result. Tillman pairs a heavy sinking fastball with a slider that keeps getting better, more than enough for a short-relief role. He generates swings and misses and many groundouts, though he’ll have to cut down on his walks as he moves up the ladder. Whether he closes big league games remains to be seen, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s ready to help out the bullpen in some capacity. After starting the year with Double-A Arkansas, Tillman was demoted to Class A Advanced Inland Empire on June 20.
John Hellweg, RHP
Org Prospect Rank: 7
Hellweg doesn't possess strong command and has walked 215 batters in 304 innings. His lack of predictability has helped him suppress hits, and he ranks as the organization's #7 prospect simply because of his ability to rack up strikeouts with a very impressive 9.6 K/9. His totals at Double-A this year (6.6 K/9) aren't nearly as incredible, and you have to wonder if his mid to upper-90s fastball is enough.
Typically, a pitcher moves from the rotation to the bullpen and takes off. For Hellweg, it was just the opposite. The tall, lanky right-hander had put up good strikeout rates as a reliever, but had really struggled throwing strikes consistently. When he was really scuffling in 2011 out of the bullpen, he moved into a starting role and posted a 2.12 ERA in 14 starts. He still got more than enough swings and misses with his plus fastball and good breaking stuff. If the changeup improves along with his command, he has the makings of a frontline starter.
Ariel Pena, RHP
Org Prospect Rank: 14
Pena has consistently posted strong strikeout numbers while having some trouble with his command, striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings pitched while walking 4.1 per nine, all in 602 career minor league innings. This is his first run through Double-A, although he had an opportunity to pitch at Triple-A last season but made just one start, making any analysis of his stint there useless. His command had been a little bit better this season.
This scouting report (from November 2011) lists his mid-90s fastball and slider as very good plus offerings. Although he didn't perform well, he did pitch in the Futures game this season. The report from the Angels' website:
The 2011 season showed how good Pena can be as well as what’s standing in his way, all at the same time. He led the Angels system and finished second in the California League in strikeouts, but he also finished second in the circuit in walks. With a plus fastball that touches the upper 90s and a nasty plus slider, he can be nearly impossible to hit. But his command has kept him from having prolonged success, with a future in the bullpen a possibility. The jump up to Double-A could be a very big test for him.
AJ Schugel, RHP
Org Prospect Rank: 19
Schugel doesn't appear to possess top-flight stuff, but has found consistency after converting to a starting pitcher last season. He's one of those pitchers who does a pretty good job of avoiding base runners, and if he can improve on his command even just a little bit without losing his strikeout rates he looks like he could be a decent middle-of-the-rotation type starter.
His fastball sits around 90mph but he can dial it up a few notches if necessary, and it has a tendency to run in against right-handed batters. He compliments his good fastball with an apparently good changeup, as well as "a fringey, mid 70s curveball that plays up because he can throw it for strikes". The official word from the website doesn't offer too much additional insight, probably because his ceiling isn't actually all that high which makes him not as exciting as other pitchers on their prospect list:
The Angels clearly knew Schugel well when they drafted him: His father, Jeff is a member of the organization’s pro scouting staff. A former two-way player, Schugel started pitching full-time when he became a pro and the move is paying off. He’s up in Double-A in his second full season and shows a very good feel for pitching. He has good movement on this fastball, a breaking ball and a changeup. He moved into the rotation last year and it looks like he’s there to stay.
Other Angels pitchers in their Top 20:
Cam Bedrosian: Did not pitch in 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.
Nick Mutz: Short track record, has upside.
Fabio Martinez Mesa: Did not pitch in 2011, different health issues. Upside as a closer.