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Yep, Francisco Liriano was ready to return to the majors. After letting Liriano make five straight starts in Triple-A Rochester during which he allowed a total of one run (and a sixth in which he yielded four runs), the Twins finally came to their senses and handed him Livan Hernandez' rotation spot. Liriano responded Sunday with six shutout innings against the Indians.

Liriano, who was roughed up in three April starts with Minnesota, earned his first major league victory since July 23, 2006. At the same time, the Twins moved into first place in the AL Central for the first time since May 13.

    With Neil Walker already on hand, the trade acquisition of Andy LaRoche and the (hopefully) pending signing of No. 2 overall pick Pedro Alvarez, who's the Pirates' third baseman of the future? What happens to the other two players?

    Josh Gaab
    Sacramento

The curious thing about LaRoche is that for someone who was so highly regarded (he ranked 19th, 19th and 31st on the last three editions of our Top 100 Prospects list), the Dodgers sure didn't seem to want to give him their third-base job. Getting substandard production from Nomar Garciaparra and Blake DeWitt the last two years couldn't change the club's mind, either. But in Pittsburgh, LaRoche should be the franchise's third baseman of the future.

LaRoche has the best chance of the three to be an average defender while providing the production expected of a third baseman. Alvarez is an elite hitter whose bat will play at any position. He's also unlikely to be more than an adequate defender at the hot corner, and his range should decrease over time. I see him moving to first base or left field.

This trade hurts Walker. He's still just 22, but the 2004 first-rounder is batting just .230/.264/.417 in Triple-A. Unless LaRoche falters and gives up the third-base job, there's going to be more pressure on Walker's bat because he's going to have to shift to an outfield corner to crack Pittsburgh's lineup. If Alvarez moves to the outfield, Walker is unlikely to beat out him or Nate McLouth or Andrew McCutchen. And if Alvarez stays in the infield, Walker is going to have to outperform the underrated Brandon Moss.

    As an avid Angels fan, I'm very perplexed as to why Brandon Wood hasn't been given a chance to prove himself at the major league level outside of 97 sporadic at-bats. I see Wood as a clone of Mark Reynolds but better defensively. If the kid can hit 25-30 homers, I don't care if the tradeoff is 150 strikeouts. Why are the Angels handling Wood this way?

    Alan Argonhi
    Vacaville, Calif.

I like the comparison to Reynolds to a certain extent, but I think it sells Wood short a bit. He's 18 months younger than Reynolds, and Wood also has more pure power. As Alan alludes, Wood is capable of playing a solid shortstop at the major league level, which enhances his value. The only reason he'd have to move to third base is if he's blocked in the big leagues.

And that has been Wood's biggest problem. He has been on fire recently at Triple-A Salt Lake, boosting his season totals to .292/.358/.599 with 25 homers and 61 RBIs in 78 games. But the Angels are happy with the play of Erick Aybar (who's a better defender) and Maicer Izturis at shortstop, and the previous two years they had Orlando Cabrera manning the position. At third base, Chone Figgins continues to ignite the lineup as an on-base and stolen-base machine.

Ultimately, I believe Wood will have a strong major league career and we'll wonder why it took so long for him to crack a big league lineup. But whether he'll get his chance in Los Angeles remains to be seen. If I had a club that needed a shortstop, I'd be trying to pry Wood loose from the Angels.

    I noticed the Yankees signed Arizona State wide receiver Mike Jones and he's currently with their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club. What are the rules governing someone who signs a pro contract in one sport and plays another in college? I know he can't return to play college baseball any more, but can he still return for his last season on the football field? I believe he graduated already, and I'm not sure if that matters or not.

    Kevin Campbell
    Chandler, Ariz.

NCAA rules permit athletes to be professional in one sport while retaining their amateur eligibility in other sports. The lone Division I exception is the Ivy League, which has affected big leaguers such as Mark DeRosa (Pennsylvania football) and Chris Young (Princeton basketball). Professional athletes no longer can receive scholarship money in a second sport unless their pro career is over, they're not being paid by a pro team and no longer have an active contract.

Jones, who had 46 catches for 10 touchdowns last fall, will again be a major contributor to the Arizona State football team this fall. He's already back on campus and set to participate in fall workouts, which begin today for the Sun Devils. He did graduate last May, but that has no bearing on his football eligibility because he was redshirted in 2004.

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