ALTOONA, Pa. – By the time a significant player has made his way through the Pirates’ system to Double-A, you have probably read dozens of articles about said player on this site. For me, who will sometimes get to see these players live in Altoona for the first time, I like to go back and read what Tim, John, and the other writers have said in the past to get a good feel for who I will be covering.
When the Pirates trade for or claim a player, it takes a lot more investigating and research to discover who exactly that player is. That’s why writing an article like last week’s on Jason Martin can be so enjoyable. The same can be said for Jesus Liranzo, a flame-throwing righty that the Pirates claimed off of waivers and sent to Altoona at the beginning of the season.
Liranzo, one of two Altoona Curve players on the Pirates’ 40-man roster (Dario Agrazal), is as intriguing a prospect as can be found. The fact that he landed with the Curve after bouncing around this offseason is surprising, given the raw talent and big arm that he has displayed so far in his minor league career.
The Pirates claimed the righty off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers, just days after he was designated for assignment by the Orioles and picked up by the Dodgers. Obviously, teams were having trouble keeping him around on the 40-man roster; however, the Pirates saw something in Liranzo and found a way to make room on their 40-man roster for him.
Jesus Liranzo was originally signed by the Braves as a teenager, but the Orioles picked him up only a year later after being released by Atlanta, possibly because of health concerns. He missed the 2014 season because of elbow surgery.
After the 2016 season, he was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, and the Orioles added him to their 40-man roster, even though he had only thrown 18.2 innings in Double-A and 104 total innings as a professional. He went on to pitch 65 innings for Double-A Bowie last year, and he was sent to the Arizona Fall League in the last two seasons.
Why all of the bouncing around for the righty, who ranked as high as 16th best in the Orioles’ system? We’ll start with the bad. Liranzo has struggled with control, averaging 5.5 BB/9 in his minor league career coming into this season. Now, the good. He has struck out almost 11 batters per nine innings in his minor league career. He also can hit triple digits with his fastball and throws a monster slider. That’s what makes Liranzo so interesting.
Facing Liranzo multiple times last season while he was with Bowie, Curve manager Michael Ryan had high praise for the righty. Immediately, though, the Pirates went to task to help Liranzo pitch in the zone more often. Consequently, they took away two out of the five pitches that he was consistently throwing.
“I think when he got here — he has such a power arm — he had five different pitches,” Ryan said. “We’re going to limit that to three, where he’s going to throw his fastball more. A lot of guys have a power arm but throw a lot of offspeed, then their velocity goes down, and they lose their fastball. We want to make sure that the fastball velocity is always there for him. Changeup, slider, and fastball for him is plenty.”
Liranzo has lit up the radar gun this season, hitting triple digits multiple times during his last appearance in Altoona that I covered. Combine a 100 MPH fastball with a breaking ball that can sit around 80-81 MPH, Liranzo can be scary to face if you’re in the batter’s box. The only probabem was the control issue, and the Pirates’ approach to Liranzo seems to be working so far this season. He has only walked one batter in 5.2 IP this season, including his first save of the year on Monday night in Richmond.
He has yet to allow a run this season on only three hits while striking out ten batters.
Is he completely absolved from the control issues? Not quite yet. Even on Monday night, he struggled with his breaking ball command, especially to right-handed batters. Fortunately, his fastball was in the zone, and he battled back to close out the game for the Curve. Last week in Altoona, he struggled with fastball command and was able to use his breaking ball effectively.
Ultimately, even in his short time in Altoona, Michael Ryan says he is a much improved version of what they saw last year.
“He’s a different guy than what we saw in Bowie,” Ryan said. “He was just letting it grip and rip, I think. He’s starting to get his slider over. He’s much more effective, and he’s down in the zone. He lost his fastball command for a little, but then he was able to get the breaking ball over. That’s not something he would’ve been able to do last year. He’s going to be an important part of the bullpen once he gets build up a little bit.”
Liranzo is only 23 years old and has yet to pitch 200 innings in the minors. With shoulder issues seemingly behind him, the Pirates may have found a diamond in the rough in the flame-throwing righty. His fastball can dominate. His slider has wipe-out capabilities. If early results are any indications, the Pirates may have another MLB-caliber reliever in Liranzo. Being on the parent club’s 40-man roster can only help him this season, as he could be considered for late season help if all goes according to plan.
Obviously, the Altoona roster is stacked with prospects, from Mitch Keller and JT Brubaker to Cole Tucker and Jason Martin. When going to the ballpark this summer, pay close attention to the late innings. It seems that Michael Ryan has found his closer in Jesus Liranzo.