Word out of the Chicago Cubs‘ Spring Training camp in Mesa, AZ is that utility man Brent Lillibridge will make the 25-man roster as a bench player. It’s still very early in the spring, but what sets the 29-year-old apart form other candidates looking to make the opening day squad is his ability to play almost every position on the field. Across five seasons in the MLB, Lillibridge has seen time at every defensive position, besides catcher and pitcher.
The only thing that has kept Lillibridge from an everyday spot in a club’s lineup has been his poor offensive production. Last season, Lillibridge put together a dismal year at the plate to say the least, and was moved around quite a bit. He started the year with the Chicago White Sox before being traded to the Boston Red Sox and was eventually shipped form Boston to the Cleveland Indians. His combined numbers with the three teams included a very low .195 batting average, just three home runs, and only 10 RBI. Lillibridge did however steal 13 bases in 15 attempts, so he does offer some speed off of the bench, which will help fill the hole left from Tony Campana being designated for assignment this past weekend.
His most commendable year was in 2011 with the White Sox. That year, Lillibridge batted .258 with 13 home runs while playing a similar role to what will be expected of him on the north side of Chicago in 2013. He’s going to give Anthony Rizzo relief at first base when needed and serve as a backup at second base, shortstop, and, at times, in the outfield. If he can repeat his 2011 campaign, Lillibridge, who was signed to a minor league contract with the Cubs this winter, will bring a lot of valuable depth to the this year’s ball club. If he can provide stable and consistent relief to some of the everyday players in the infield and utilize his pop in pinch hitting roles, Lillibridge will earn his paycheck.
“I’m not going to lie to you, [Lillibridge’s versatility] gives you a huge edge in the National League,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum told reporters in Mesa. “He’s got some sock in his bat for a guy who looks like he’s 150 pounds soaking wet.”
So despite not having yet played a Spring Training game, we can already get a pretty good sense of who will make the Cubs’ 25-man roster as bench players. Along with Lillibridge, catcher Dioner Navarro, infielder Luis Valbuena, and outfielders Scott Hairston and Dave Sappelt should see playing time in part time roles right out of the gate. Of those five bench players, three bat right-handed, while Valbuena bats from the left side and Navarro is a switch hitter, which will give Svuem some reliable options in different key situations.