Seattle Mariners prospect Alex Liddi will represent Italy in the 2011 MLB All-Stars Futures Game on July 10th. How soon will he contribute in the majors?
Liddi was signed by the Mariners as a free agent in 2005, becoming the first Italian to play Organized Baseball in North America. After struggling in the Midwest League for two years, he broke out by hitting .345/.411/.594 in the California League in 2009, then had a solid .281/.353/.476 campaign for Double-A West Tennessee in 2010. This year he's hitting .255/.326/.469 with 15 homers and 23 doubles in 80 games, 326 at-bats, for Triple-A Tacoma. This is his third consecutive selection for the World Team in the Futures Game.
Liddi was listed at 6-3, 180 pounds when he first signed but has gained size and strength since then, now measured at 6-4, 230. A right-handed hitter, he has plus power and can drive pitches to all fields, and is particularly strong against fastballs. He has issues with pitch recognition and is vulnerable to strikeouts: he's whiffed 106 times already this year, and scouts worry that he won't make sufficient contact to hit for average in the majors. He does make an effort to work the count and will draw some walks, but batting average will never be his strong suit. He's streaky and vulnerable to cold spells, but his hot spells are very hot.
Liddi has a strong throwing arm and good hands, and has made considerable progress as a defender, improving his fielding percentage from .899 in 2007 to .959 this year, with steady improvements in his range factor. His footwork has improved to the point where he's played 12 games at shortstop for Tacoma, with adequate results. He won't play shortstop in the majors, at least not regularly, but the fact that he's seen action there this year and hasn't embarrassed himself is evidence for how much his glove has improved.
At age 22, Liddi still has plenty of development time ahead, and his European background means he could have untapped potential. If he can make further progress with the strike zone and reduce the strikeout rate, he could emerge as a third baseman with a solid glove and enough power to start regularly.
Those are fairly big "ifs" and "coulds," but Liddi shouldn't be underestimated, and I like him more than the numbers say I should. While I don't think he will thrive immediately in the majors, in the medium and long-term I'm optimistic that he can be a solid player. That's a subjective opinion, I fully admit.