BY John Hickey 03:30PM 02/21/2011

Mariners’ future will look a lot like Alex Liddi

The 22-year-old third baseman from Italy is part of the international pot of prospects the Mariners have brought in. Liddi is spending spring training trying to show manager Eric Wedge he belongs with the big club.

Mariners prospect Alex Liddi has played in back-to-back All-Star Futures Games / Jeff Gross, Getty Images

PEORIA, AZ – The story is almost as old as baseball itself. A kid grows up playing baseball but doesn’t speak English. He comes to the U.S. knowing the game but not knowing the land where his work has taken him.

The language he knows is based on Latin. The language of America has a Germanic heritage that isn’t all that easy to pick up.

So the kid’s first couple of years are spent as a stranger in a strange land.

What makes this story different is that Alex Liddi wasn’t born in Central or South America. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He’s from San Remo on the Italian Rivera. It’s the kind of place you think of as the setting for a James Bond Film, but it isn’t commonly thought of as a hot spot for baseball.

And yet the 6-foot-4, 220-pound third baseman is one of the brightest prospects in the Seattle organization.

His father, Augustin, played baseball and taught his son the game. His mother, Flavia, played softball at a high level, too, and that helped push 5-year-old Alex to baseball.

Only six Italian-born athletes have made it to the Major Leagues. It’s been half a century since the last, Reno Bertoia, and he almost doesn’t count. Bertoia was born in Italy, true enough, but his family moved to Windsor, Ont., across from Detroit when he was one.

Alex Liddi hit .345 with 23 home runs and 104 RBIs in 2009 at High Desert. / Steve Saenz, High Desert Mavericks

However, Liddi is the real deal. He was signed by Mariners’ international scout Wayne Norton and Mario Mazzotti, one of the team’s European scouts. He did all his playing until the time he was 17 in Italy. Liddi was a member of the Italian team in the World Baseball classic in 2009, hitting .375 in limited playing time.

In many ways he seems to be the immediate future of the Mariners. Seattle has put a lot of time and money into its international program, and for all the concentrating on the draft that the club has professed in the last decade, the draft hasn’t produced much.

On the other hand, the organization’s international wing has struck gold. Ichiro Suzuki (posted from Japan) and Felix Hernandez (signed out of Venezuela) are the team’s two most marketable stars. The last Mariners front-line player from the draft was Adam Jones in 2003. He became an All-Star after being traded to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal.

In the 2011 spring training camp, Liddi, starting pitcher Michael Pineda (Dominican Republic) and outfielder Greg Halman (Netherlands) are among those bunched at the top of a group of the organization’s top minor league prospects. All came from international signings.

Last year at Double-A Jackson (formerly West Tennessee), Liddi drove in 92 runs. / Jackson Generals

Liddi, who played at Double-A West Tennessee last year (now the Jackson Generals) while hitting .281 with 15 homers and a Southern League-leading 92 RBIs, could be as good as any of them.

His work ethic is not wanting. While most younger members of the organization tend to gravitate to the Peoria area to work out during the winter, Liddi returns to Italy. But he only spends weekends at his family’s home in San Remo. During the week he’s four hours south and east of home in the shadow of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Major League Baseball has an academy outside Pisa, and I’m there Monday through Friday,’’ Liddi said. “It would be nice to be closer to home, but it’s the only place where you can work out and get a very baseball-type workout and be with the trainers and coaches baseball brings over there.

“I know I have a lot to learn before I can be in the Major Leagues, so I want to make sure I’m as ready as I can be.’’

Ten-time All-Star Ichiro is a Japanese pop culture star and defending Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez is celebrated on most street corners in Venezuela. Liddi doesn’t have to face the expectations of the masses. He’s still relatively unknown back home.

In the cloistered confines of the Seattle organization, however, Liddi is gaining quite a following. New manager Eric Wedge, who didn’t know anything about Liddi until a few months ago, has seen him in workouts for a few days now and raves about him.

“I very much like what I’ve seen so far. I like the way he moves on defense and gets the ball across the diamond,” Wedge said. “This is the time for a young player like Liddi to make an impression for down the road, and he’s doing that.’’

Deeper in the organization, he’s already made an impression. He seems to have a natural affinity for picking up languages and speaks Spanish in addition to Italian. As he learned English along with the rest of the (mostly Spanish speaking) Seattle minor leaguers, he also took extra classes in English on his own. Along the way, he became a mentor of sorts to his teammates.

“What separates him from other prospects is his makeup,’’ Pedro Griffol, the Mariners’ director of minor league operations, said. “He spends time working with the Spanish-speaking guys, helping them with their English. He’s a great teammate.

“On top of that, he is a relentless worker on the field; his makeup is off the charts. He’s got a great future.’’

And in Seattle, it’s all about the future.

John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Jeff in Baton Rouge

    Liked hearing about a different aspect of the game. That and Hickey is a good baseball writer. I absolutely can not handle the french canuck Geoff Baker anymore he’s a joke

  • Desiree Bernard

    I watched Alex play for the High Desert Mavricks in 09 and he was a great player then. It also doesn’t surprise me that he helps his temates with their english, seeing that he is an all-around nice person to everyone.

  • Shawn McLaughlin

    Liddi is likely no more than a future back-up. He is a butcher in the field and outside of the offensive haven that is the California League, he has been a decent but not great hitter. There is a reason he isn’t in the organizational top 10′s of ANY of the top Seattle writers who cover the M’s and are most familiar with their system.

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  • Kiley Liddi

    I LOVE YOU ALEX LIDDI
    AND VERY IMPRESSIVE

  • Kiley Liddi

    I LOVE YOU ALEX LIDDI
    AND VERY IMPRESSIVE

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  • Kasey

    My daughter and her best friend are the biggest Alex Liddi fans of all time. In our home he is nicknamed “Italian Stallion.” Not only is he an awesome player, but he is great to the local fans. He will talk to any kid that wants to talk to him and would sign a million autographs if his coaches would let him.

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