Who Is Adam Liberatore?
Despite a record-setting payroll, the Los Angeles Dodgers abysmal bullpen ultimately destroyed their playoff hopes last season. Among the myriad of moves the overhauled front office made, led by former small market masterminds Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, formerly of Tampa Bay and Oakland, respectively, the most critical centered around rebuilding a pen that was among the worst in baseball a season ago. The Dodgers biggest offseason acquisition was 39-year old veteran Joel Peralta, whom Friedman sniped from his former employer in a November trade. Peralta was a savvy pickup, but Friedman managed to grab another reliever in the deal as well, one who might end up ultimately having a far greater impact for the Dodgers, and fantasy owners as well, a guy pretty much nobody has ever heard of, outside of the Rays hipster prospect scene (if that’s even a thing), Adam Liberatore.
The 28-year old southpaw was arguably the top relief pitcher in the Triple-A International League last season when he posted a 1.66 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP and 86 strikeouts in 65 innings with the Durham Bulls. Liberatore checks all of the boxes when it comes to “the trifecta” of core statistics fantasy owners should look for in a pitching prospect. He strikes out well over a batter per inning (11.91 K/9), significantly cut his walk rate (2.08 BB/9) and gave up just one home run all of last season.
Liberatore is a sabermetricly inclined general managers prototypical relief prospect darling, a former 21st round pick, who averages 93 mph on his fastball along with a workable slider and changeup. He has defied the odds even making it to Triple-A, posting outstanding statistics in the upper minors, holding his own against righties (.192 average) while dominating left-handed batters (.176 average) once again last season. There is a reason why Friedman and Zaidi went after Liberatore, a pitching prospect Friedman drafted and developed in Tampa Bay, in the offseason, because he could end up being one of the Dodgers best relievers for years to come.
Fantasy owners don’t pay attention to relief pitchers (especially relief pitching prospects) mainly because shutdown relievers seemingly materialize overnight (see Neshek, Pat) and there is always an abundance of quality relief pitching available in free agency.
Unless a reliever is generating saves, they typically don’t pitch a high enough volume of innings (Dellin Betances is the rare exception) to have a significant fantasy impact, but the very best middle relievers, like Wade Davis, provide enough of a boost in the rate statistics to earn their place on the back end of any dynasty roster. Non-closing relievers are the most volatile of fantasy commodities, but they can provide you with value if utilized correctly.
The main reason fantasy owners should keep Liberatore on their radar is because he might be the best left-handed relief pitcher the Dodgers have on the roster entering the season and the former Triple-A closer could find himself in high-leverage innings very quickly.
Closer Kenley Jansen is going to miss at least the first month of the season after undergoing foot surgery, Peralta is a dinosaur dealing with “shoulder discomfort” while J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez are still battling a case of ineffectiveness from last season. Brian Wilson and Chris Perez are gone. Aside from Brandon League, who else do the Dodgers really have to call on in the late innings? Chris Hatcher, Dustin McGowan and Juan Nicasio were savvy offseason acquisitions by Friedman and Zaidi that have the potential to work out, but there are more questions than answers in Los Angeles, which opens up the door for Liberatore to establish himself as the top southpaw in the pen at the very least. His floor is that of a quality LOOGY, but his minor league numbers indicate that he may be capable of setting up Jansen right away.
Los Angeles may be able to flex their sizable financial muscle in a variety of areas whether its in free agency, the trade market or with high profile international signings, but it’s under the radar, small market-type acquisitions, like Liberatore, that have made Friedman and Zaidi successful in the past when they were putting together a roster on a shoestring budget, and will ultimately help put the Dodgers over the top, eventually. Liberatore has plenty to prove at the Major League level, but if he’s as good as his stats indicate, he was an absolute steal for the Dodgers and will have an impact for fantasy owners. Keep him on your radar this season.