We live in a day and age of top prospect lists. But inevitably with such lists, there are going to be players that deserve recognition, but go forgotten. One of these players in the Tampa Bay Rays system is left-handed relief pitcher Adam Liberatore, who is having a great season for the Triple-A Durham Bulls.
This year in the Bulls’ bullpen, Liberatore has put up an outstanding 2.14 ERA in 42.0 innings, striking out 55 batters while walking just 8, which is good for an 11.8 K/9 and a 1.7 BB/9. Liberatore has been one of the best relievers on a team full of bullpen talent. The crazy thing is that Liberatore, 27 years old, has been putting up great numbers his entire career. In the minor leagues he has a 2.84 ERA, 8.5 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9. He has only every posted above a 3.10 ERA once- a 3.58 ERA with Triple-A last season. But even that might have been inflated by bad luck, as his 2.43 FIP that year indicates he was a much better pitcher. Overall, Liberatore has a great track record, but no recognition to go along with it.
There are a few reasons that Liberatore isn’t talked about much. First of all, his stuff doesn’t jump out at you. His fastball sits around 90-92 MPH, meaning Liberatore has to rely on deception more than velocity to make it an effective pitch. His best secondary pitch is his slider, and it has shown above-average ability. He also mixes in a changeup, but it is the worst of his pitches. Liberatore only features one above-average pitch in his slider, and while his stuff plays up because of his deceptive arm slot, it is hard to get excited about that velocity in a day and age of flame-throwing relievers. Secondly, Liberatore is not particularly effective against righties, who have hit .272/.337/.336 against him in his career vs. a .190/.268/.273 line from lefties. Because of that, Liberatore is probably not going to be more than a lefty specialist, and it is hard to get excited about that. Lastly, Liberatore has always been an older player throughout his minor league career, and at 27 years old he is already going through what are considered a player’s “prime years.” Liberatore has been a great performer, but because of these factors that performance must be taken with a grain of salt.
In the end, Liberatore has the skills to be a contributor to the Rays soon. Nothing about him jumps out at you, but he could be a good lefty specialist and might be able to squeak himself into middle relief. Unfortunately for Liberatore, the Rays have great relief depth, and thus he is going to have to fight hard if he ever wants to see time with the big league club. But we do know that Liberatore has dominated almost every step of the way in the minors, and it is only a matter of time until recognition comes his way.