Prospects Winfree, Liriano honored

Prospects Winfree, Liriano honored

MINNEAPOLIS -- In an organization known for coveting its prospects, the Twins felt third baseman David Winfree and left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano rose above the rest in 2005.

On Monday, the club named Winfree winner of the Sherry Robertson Award as the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year. Liriano earned the Jim Rantz Award as the Twins' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

This season at lower Class A Beloit, Winfree batted .294 with 16 home runs and a Midwest League-leading 101 RBIs in 135 games. The 20-year-old drove in more runs than anyone in the Twins organization this year.

"He was a consistent guy that got big hits and helped that club get to the playoffs," said Rantz, the Twins' Minor League director. "He's got a live bat with pop."

Minnesota selected Winfree with its 13th-round draft pick in 2003 out of First Colonial High School in Virginia. This season, he was named to the Midwest League Post-Season All-Star team and the lower Class A All-Star team. Baseball America ranked Winfree the 14th-best prospect in the Midwest League.

Expectations are that the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Winfree will move up to Class A Fort Myers next season. He still has some work to do as he advances closer to the big leagues. Following a season in which he committed 34 errors, Winfree was sent to the fall Instructional League to work on his defense.

While Winfree remains on the more distant horizon, Twins fans already caught a glimpse of the future when Liriano made his Major League debut in September.

In a torrid season of advancement, Liriano began the year at Double-A New Britain before working his way to the big leagues.

"He stepped it up as he moved up to each level," Rantz said. "When he got to the Major Leagues, he stepped it up a little more."

The 22-year-old Liriano was 3-5 with a 3.64 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 13 starts (76 2/3 innings) before a June 17 promotion to Triple-A Rochester. With the Red Wings, he went 9-2 with a 1.78 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 14 starts (91 innings) while opponents batted just .177 against him. He finished the season with the Twins with a record of 1-2, a 5.70 ERA and 33 strikeouts in six games, including four starts.

Almost an unknown with a history of elbow problems when he arrived with closer Joe Nathan and Minor League pitcher Boof Bonser in the Nov. 14, 2003, trade that sent A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants, Liriano quickly became one of the organization's most prized prospects. He has a mid-90s mph fastball and racks up many of his strikeouts with a nasty high-80s slider.

Liriano is expected to challenge for a spot on the Twins' Major League rotation when he arrives at Spring Training next year.

"There's not much more I can say that he hasn't shown on the mound," Rantz said. "He threw more strikes as he got to the higher levels. He was up to the challenge. He pitched aggressively."

Other accolades have already rolled in for the young lefty. He was the starting pitcher for the World team at this year's MLB Futures Game in Detroit. USA Today named him its Minor League Player of the Year.

The Sherry Robertson Award, named in honor of the Twins' first farm director, was established in 1970. Beginning in 2002, the award began recognizing the Twins' Minor League Player of the Year, while an additional award was created to recognize the Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Past winners of the Robertson Award include Butch Wynegar (1974), Kent Hrbek (1981), Marty Cordova (1992), LaTroy Hawkins (1993 and '94), David Ortiz (1997), Michael Cuddyer (2001), Lew Ford (2002) and Joe Mauer (2003). J.D. Durbin (2002) and Jesse Crain (2003) are the past winners of the Rantz Award.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.