Mariners' Liddi Grew Up With Baseball In Italy
JACKSON, Tenn.—The minors' first Italian-born position player is one step closer to the majors.
How Alex Liddi ended up playing third base for the Mariners in Double-A West Tenn is an interesting tale.
Despite growing up in a country where baseball gets fourth billing behind soccer, basketball and even volleyball, Liddi always dreamed of playing baseball stateside.
"I've been playing since I was little," he said. "My parents always enjoyed baseball. My brother played. I guess I didn't have a choice. It was always my goal to come to the U.S. and play."
And even though baseball isn't widely covered in Italy, he still watched big league games and quickly adopted a favorite player.
"Chipper Jones—he is an exciting player," Liddi said. "He would make a lot of exciting plays and always had a great year. That's why I liked him."
So, it's fitting that like Jones, he plays third, where he feels very comfortable.
Liddi isn't even the only Italian-born player in the Southern League. Cubs righthander Alex Maestri, 24, pitches for Tennessee in his fifth year of pro ball.
"There is a lot of pride with that," Liddi said. "Alex and I are in Double-A and the closest guys to the big leagues."
On The Map
Liddi, who earned the Mariners' 2009 minor league player of the year award after hitting .345/.411/.594 in 129 games for high Class A High Desert, initially struggled against Southern League pitching, but he has responded of late to bring his numbers up to .285/.348/.449 though 55 games.
Diamond Jaxx manager Tim Laker realizes Liddi is raw but likes what he brings to the diamond.
"He can more than hold his own here," he said. "The ball comes off his bat well. He's got a chance to be a pretty good player."
Laker also sees many other positives in his 21-year-old third baseman.
"He's a really good kid. He's athletic," he said. "He's got a big frame. He's strong. He plays a really good brand of baseball."
After spending much of 2006 in the Rookie-level Arizona League, Liddi was promoted to low Class A Wisconsin late in the year.
He spent the next two seasons with the Timber Rattlers but truly broke out last year with High Desert, earning California League MVP honors.
That performance earned him some at-bats at big league camp this spring.
"It was an awesome experience, getting to be around those guys," Liddi said. "I got to see how they go about their business. I really liked it."
His breakout season also is a big reason why he entered the season as Seattle's No. 4 prospect.
"I don't really think about that," Liddi said. "It doesn't matter where I'm ranked. But I know I'm getting close to the big leagues and that helps a lot."
The California League, though, is a hitter-friendly circuit. Liddi knew advancing to Double-A meant he was going to have to adjust to better pitching.
"I had to make some adjustments because these guys throw more offspeed and have better offspeed pitches," Liddi said. "It's gone well."
Adjusting to better pitching can often be rough for players like Liddi, especially after a great season at a lower level.
"More than anything, he's coming off such a good year and it's hard for a guy to accept he might have to make some adjustments," Laker said. "When you hit .340 and you're the MVP of the league with 140 RBIs, you think you can do the same thing and it will just carry over."
In Liddi's case, his manager wanted to see him fail early so Liddi could see the exact adjustments he had to make.
"First you've got to fail," Laker said. "Early on, he had failures and over the last month or so, he's really started swinging the bat better and putting together better at-bats. It's just a matter of him not closing off his upper half and maybe pulling off some breaking balls and staying on them a little bit better."
Room To Grow
Despite Liddi's early struggles, Laker, who spent 11 seasons in the majors, sees many plusses with Liddi's approach and execution at the dish.
"He's got a good swing," Laker said. "He's a guy that has got power to both fields. He sprays the ball from gap to gap."
One area of his offensive game that could improve is his propensity to strike out. He struck out 122 times in 565 plate appearances in 2009 or 22 percent of his trips to the plate. With 52 strikeouts in 227 plate appearances in 2010, he's striking out at around the same clip as a year ago.
"I've just got to be more consistent," Liddi said. "I just need to go out there and play," he said. That will come with the more games I play."
While he continues to progress offensively, he might be regressing on defense. After committing 27 errors in 2007, Liddi's total dropped to 18 in each of the last two seasons. However, Liddi's 15 miscues already put him way ahead of his pace over the last two years. Laker sees several ways he could improve defensively.
"He needs to work on his lateral quickness a little more, balls to his left," he said. "He's very good going to his right. He needs to work on improving his range a little bit to be a really good third baseman."
Steve Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.