Possibly the Next Santana

Ravuth ThorngCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2008

The departure of Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana was a heart breaker for myself, as well as most of my fellow Twins fans.

The unwillingness of the richest owner in baseball to spend a little more money has turned a team contending for the AL Central Division, into one that is in a rebuilding phase.

The team not only lost the most reliable and dominant lefty in the game, but it also lost an innings eater in Silva, who should have won 15-16 games last season, but didn't due to lack of run-support.

Aside from Santana, Silva was the most consistent pitcher, having added a little sinking fastball that helped him get a lot of ground balls, on top of what he was already getting. The rest of last year's starting rotation for the Twins didn't pan out too well either, trying to bring in veteran presence with Ponson and Ortiz, both of which were cut before the end of the season because of ineffectiveness.

And that's the Twins owner's philosophy in a nutshell. To pick up washed-up guys for little money, hoping that they could solidify a rotation that was lacking three consistent starters.

If you are as big a fan of Johan as I am, then you know that the ace was picked up in the Rule Five Draft, and was developed by the Twin's farm system, which has brought up a lot of amazing talent.

If you know the Twins' history, and remember when Santana was in the bullpen, you know that at one time, Santana was one of those arms in the pen that was hit or miss. Bert Blyleven said one time during the playoffs that Santana was a liability, coming out of the pen. We all know what happened next, and as they say, the rest is history.

Anyway, what I am really trying to get at is that the Twins' farm system has been known to produce a lot of young, talented arms, and Fransisco Liriano is one of them.

Fransisco Liriano could very well be Johan Santana's now American League counterpart. He showed a glimpse of greatness during his rookie season, where he posted an ERA lower than that of Johan's, and was on his way to surpassing Santana's wins and strikeout total in fewer starts. That is, until he got sidelined with the elbow injury that led to the Tommy John surgery.

After a 15 month layoff, it seems as if the monster that had to be put in its cage is now back with a vengeance and ready to breath fire once again. Unlike many pitchers that undergo the ligament repair, Liriano kept himself in shape, and put on 20 pounds of muscle mass, clipping him out at 220.

That increase in muscle should not only allow Fransisco to reach the velocity that he once possessed, but also keep his arm healthy and away from more injury.

However, in attempts to keep his arm from getting injured again, Liriano has lost his electric slider that caused him to be on the shelf, because of his violent delivery. He seems to now have a more big, slow breaking-ball along the lines of a Barry Zito type, rather than his upper 80s lower 90s late-breaking slider.

This is where Liriano uses the time he spent with Santana to his advantage. Liriano's old slider was a lot more effective than Santana's, but what separates the two is the devastating change-up that Johan possesses. If someone can strikeout 17 Texas Rangers on a mostly fastball-change-up combination, then you know he's doing something right.

With Fransisco being afraid to let his pitches fly, like his slider for one, he has to rely on a different out pitch to continue being as dominant as he was. This is where the change-up comes to play. Liriano had already had a pretty decent change, but the separation between his and Johan, which is quite possible the best in the game, is still miles wide.

Liriano has been working on it, but to stay a dominant pitcher without that electric slider of his, he needs to bring that change-up to Santana caliber. Once he does, he can easily put up numbers similar to what Johan has accomplished. He's already got the makings and the composure of a Cy Young Award winner. All he has to do is stay healthy and find a different, effective out pitch to establish him as a great pitcher, rather than a mediocre fluke.