Chicago White Sox: Brent Lillibridge
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox have traded infielder Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox for utilityman Brent Lillibridge and right-hander Zach Stewart.
The AL Central-leading White Sox, who also receive cash in the deal, have been looking for a third baseman with Brent Morel plagued by back problems.
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CHICAGO -- Here’s a quick look at the Chicago White Sox's 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday:
How it happened: The White Sox got back to their winning ways on Sunday thanks to a steady outing by left-hander Chris Sale and some timely hitting early on. Sale, who was just named the American League Pitcher of the Month, threw a complete game against the Mariners and did not allow a hit after the fifth inning. He gave up five hits and struck out eight. Gordon Beckham had an RBI single to left field in the fourth, extending his hitting streak to 10 games, while Alex Rios followed with an RBI infield single. Rios finished with a pair of RBIs while Brent Lillibridge, who got the start in centerfield, walked in the Sox’s first run of the game with a bases-loaded walk in the second. Kosuke Fukudome left the game after the third inning with back stiffness.
What it means: The White Sox remain ahead of the Indians atop the Central Division standings as this win marked their fifth straight series victory, something the club hasn’t done since June 8-27, 2010.
Outside the box: The White Sox are off on Monday and hold the No. 13 and No. 48 overall picks in the First-Year Player Draft, which begins at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. The Sox received the 48th pick as compensation for the loss of Mark Buehrle.
Up next: Right hander Philip Humber (2-2) will open a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, opposing lefty Ricky Romero (6-1). Humber is looking for his second straight win after allowing five hits over seven innings pitched in his last start. Game time on Tuesday is 7:10 p.m.
The White Sox may have the most underwhelming group of outfielders in the major leagues after trading Carlos Quentin and not bringing back leadoff man free agent Juan Pierre.
The team waited until mid-February to sign former Cub Kosuke Fukudome as a backup for all three outfield stops. Fukudome and Brent Lillibridge may get as much playing time as the starters.
Alex Rios will be the key to solidifying right field. The Sox hope returning him to his natural position will kick-start what once was a solid career. Rios had a brutal 2011 season, hitting .221 with 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. His performance at the plate aside, Rios’ defensive drop-off was infinitely more surprising.
Alejandro De Aza will replace Rios in center. De Aza came out of nowhere last season to claim a regular spot in the outfield. The former Florida Marlin played well enough in spring training to win the job and leadoff role in the batting order.
Management was happy to finally see some improvement in leftfielder Dayan Viciedo at the end of spring training. Switching from right to left has been a defensive nightmare for the 23-year-old Cuban. Up until the final week of camp, Viciedo looked like he never played the game, as he approached each contest with a startiling lack of energy.
Lilibridge has become a fan favorite, and why wouldn’t he? He got the job done at six positions and showed surprising power (13 home runs in 186 at-bats) last season. Fukudome may end up with 400 at-bats as a defensive replacement and starter against certain bottom of the rotation pitchers.
Three keys to success
• Rios returns to his 2010 performance levels as he responds to a return to right field.
• DeAza hits .290 and steals 30 bases while playing a solid centerfield.
• After a terrible spring training, Viciedo puts up 25 home runs and plays at least average outfield defense.
The Chicago White Sox’s infield should be the strength of the team this season. Comeback seasons from Adam Dunn (DH-1B) and second baseman Gordon Beckham will be key elements to the club’s success.
The infield returns in tact from last season’s group and only first baseman Paul Konerko could be considered as having lived up to expectations during the 2011 season. Konerko gets better with age. The 36-year-old slugger, who has averaged 35 home runs and 100 RBIs in his last three seasons, is just four homers away from 400 for his career. He will need more time at DH in order to keep his legs strong, and that’s where Dunn must step up his game.
Management believes Dunn will benefit from more time on the field. The outlook is good for Dunn, who has been more aggressive at the plate driving balls to all fields earlier in the count all spring after a disastrous debut season in Chicago. Dunn worked hard at his conditioning in the offseason which began with extensive hitting, something he never had to do in the past. Defense always has been a challenge for Dunn, who has looked good digging balls out of the dirt in spring training. Range is an issue regardless of whether it’s Konerko or Dunn at first.
Like Beckham, shortstop Alexei Ramirez is one of the elite defenders at his position in the major leagues. Ramirez was supposed to step up his offense in 2011. Instead he hit 15 points less while staying flat in home run and RBI production (.269, 15, 70). The Sox will need more offense from him to make up for the loss of Carlos Quentin in the lineup.
In September, Brent Morel looked like the power-hitting third baseman the team was hoping for when he hit eight of his 10 homers on the season during the final month. Taking more walks will be key for a more productive season for the 24-year-old. Sox officials believe in Morel and feel manager Robin Ventura will have a strong influence on his career. Although he made 14 errors in 126 games, Morel is a solid defender.
Backup infielders Brent Lillibridge and Eduardo Escobar will get plenty of playing time as Ventura promises to rest his position players all season long. Sox fans will enjoy Escobar, who has some flash that might remind people of a young Ozzie Guillen. Lillibridge will back up the infield and outfield.
The White Sox are in transition behind the plate with a veteran in A.J. Pierzynski and heir apparent Tyler Flowers fighting for time. Ventura will be able to platoon the left-handed hitting Pierzynski and right-handed hitting Flowers but at some point the club may want Flowers to get more playing time.
At some point during the season a contending team will lose a catcher and approach the Sox about the availability of Pierzynski, who has 5-10 trade protection rights and will have to decide to stay or go.
Flowers, who has 20-homer potential, has improved dramatically at calling pitches at the major league level. He needs to catch 120 games to begin to reach his own expectations as a catcher.
Three keys to success
• Dunn bats at least .240. If he is able to make contact he will hit 35 home runs and drive in 100 runs.
• Beckham lives up to expectations, hitting .280 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs.
• Ramirez and Morel pick up the slack left behind by Quentin’s departure, combining for 35 homers and 150 RBIs.
The White Sox will miss Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, who will not pitch in the first series of the season for Texas. The assumption was that Darvish would pitch in the third game which will be the first "Sunday Night Baseball" game of the season.
• Alex Rios was a late scratch on Thursday with a strained Achilles' tendon that he incurred on Wednesday in a collision with teammate Brent Lillibridge. Ventura said it was a precautionary move and Rios will most likely play on Friday.
• RHP Jesse Crain pitched in Cactus League competition for the first time since March 12. Crain pitched one scoreless inning, striking out one batter. Crain was returning from a right side oblique strain. His next outing will be Saturday.
"You want everyone to do well at the plate, but there's a lot that goes into those last spots, like who plays defense, being able to move around different positions, steal a base," manager Robin Ventura said. "There are different positions, a lot of things they can bring to a team and lineup on any given day that you have to have some flexibility with them."
And it might not even be as simple as that.
A lot depends on how the White Sox plan to use Brent Lillibridge, who spent the latter part of last season in the outfield. But Ventura thinks Lillibridge can help this team more in the infield, backing up second base, shortstop and third base. If that's the case, then the final roster spot could go to a player like Dan Johnson, Dallas McPherson or Jim Gallagher, all left-handed hitters who have experience playing first base. Ozzie Martinez, a right-handed hitter who was acquired from Miami as compensation for manager Ozzie Guillen, and the switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar, who plays both second base and shortstop and stole 13 bases at Triple-A Charlotte last season, are also in the mix.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It’ll be Team Konerko vs. Team Dunn for this afternoon’s intrasquad game.
Even manager Robin Ventura sees Lillibridge’s greatest value to the Chicago White Sox is in the infield. But Lillibridge said he doesn’t let his ego get in the way regarding the position he desires to play. With so much at stake for the 28-year-old personally this season, he just wants to play, period.
“It’s a big year for me personally, just to get into arbitration and really hopefully get a big payday for myself but also hopefully get a lot of at-bats and really help this team,” Lillibridge said. “I’m really excited to see where we can go this year.”
Lillibridge hit .258 with 29 RBIs in 186 at bats last season, playing every outfield position plus first base, second base and designated hitter last season. But the biggest change for Lillibridge this season won’t even come on the field. Instead, he’ll be adjusting to new hitting coach Jeff Manto after spending the last three years with Greg Walker, who helped the utility man focus on efficiency and mechanical flaws. Lillibridge has known Manto since coming up through the Pirates organization and said he loves his approach.
“He just wants to see what we see and feel what we feel as our swings go and I think it’s a great approach as a hitting instructor,” Lillibridge said.
If Gordon Beckham and Alex Rios continue to struggle at the plate, Lillibridge could expect to see more playing time. But Lillibridge is of the thinking that if he produces results he’ll get more at-bats no matter the circumstance.
“You know, I would assume that’s the plan but like anything I have to do well,” he said. “I have to have good at-bats, I have to have results and just keep playing well and they’ll put me in there. But if I don’t, then I don’t expect to play. It’s just one of those things so I’ve just got to continue to improve on what I did last year and like I said just work really hard on swinging at really good pitches, really battling when I’m not feeling great and just try to improve.”
The Chicago White Sox are going to need to answer plenty of questions in 2012, but the outfield is perhaps the area where they will have to answer the most.
What will Alex Rios do after a brutal 2011? What kind of production can Dayan Viciedo deliver in his first full major league season? Can Alejandro De Aza match what he did in the second half of 2011 all while holding down the leadoff spot?
Also to be answered are where these guys will actually be playing. Viciedo figures to be the starting right fielder, but new manager Robin Ventura has admitted that Rios could end up playing left field while De Aza plays center.
Expect Brent Lillibridge to get plenty of outfield time as well as the backup to all three outfield spots. Kosuke Fukudome also figures to get some time, while also serving as a left-handed pinch-hit option off the bench.
The first goal should be to at least match the production from last year’s outfield. Getting more production from center field shouldn’t be a problem. A consistent full season could allow De Aza to at least match what Juan Pierre offered last year. Viciedo, though, will have a challenge equaling Carlos Quentin’s production while facing major league pitching for an entire season.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO IN 2012
If Rios can deliver more like he did in 2010, Viciedo settles into an early groove and De Aza gives a repeat performance, the outfield would be one less worry for Ventura. Using De Aza in center field would seem to give the White Sox their best defensive alignment. Lillibridge will continue to raise his cult-hero status if he can do what he did in 2011, all while getting more at-bats. Fukudome has the carrot of a $3.5 million 2013 option dangling in front of him and will need to make the most of his limited chances off the bench.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO IN 2012
A lot could go wrong here, especially if Rios continues to eat up payroll while helping to sink the offense, not to mention the defense. Viciedo is going to have his productive stretches, but he will also have periods of struggle and the shorter they are the better. If Viciedo can’t keep his strikeout numbers down there could be problems. One way De Aza could have issues is if he alters his game to fit the leadoff role.
KID TO WATCH
Trayce Thompson and Keenyn Walker are the outfielders of the future, while Jordan Danks is a solid offensive season away from getting a chance. But Jared Mitchell is somewhat at a crossroads as he tries to distance himself from the torn ankle tendon he suffered in the spring of 2010. After not being invited to major league camp last spring, Mitchell is back this year and will be given a clean slate in front of a whole new group of coaches.
The good news is that Gordon Beckham sounds confident as spring training approaches. The only problem is that he sounded just as confident before the 2011 season began.
When it comes to the Chicago White Sox’s infield in 2012 much of the intrigue revolves around whether Beckham stops regressing and delivers the kind of season his talent suggests he can.
To his credit, Beckham turned himself into a solid defensive second baseman. He now needs to make the same strides at the plate.
A slow start on defense got shortstop Alexei Ramirez off on the wrong foot and although he recovered, he never managed to take the next step in his development, appearing to plateau instead. Captain Paul Konerko keeps on delivering and is one of the few White Sox players who wouldn’t disappoint by repeating his performance from last season.
Eduardo Escobar, Brent Lillibridge and even Dan Johnson could see time on the infield as backups.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO IN 2012
The remarkably consistent Konerko wouldn’t hurt the club with a slight dip in production, but only if Morel, Ramirez and Beckham all take a step forward this season. Morel still appears to have room to make huge strides and if Ventura can bring it out of him, the club can get much-needed run production from the bottom of the order. Beckham, though, is the real key toward making this group work.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO IN 2012
If Beckham hasn’t shown something by the middle of May, the White Sox will be left scrambling for other options. Escobar could be the answer, but he still needs plenty of seasoning. Could Lillibridge handle the load at second base and deliver in a full-time role like he did as a backup last season? If Ramirez gets off to another slow start with the glove and Morel continues to rush himself on throws, the high hopes for a solid left-side defense will be dashed.
KID TO WATCH
A scenario exists where one Ozzie replaces the other this season. Shortstop Ozzie Martinez, whom the White Sox received as part of the compensation when Ozzie Guillen went to the Miami Marlins, has an outside shot at landing a backup infield role. The Puerto Rico native has 66 career major-league at-bats but in those he has nearly as many strikeouts (15) as hits (17).
DALLAS – Exactly one year ago, as the winter meetings headed toward a close, the White Sox basked in the glow of re-signing Paul Konerko.
Flash forward one year and the White Sox are set to limp out of this year's meetings having lost one of the most memorable pitchers in franchise history in Mark Buehrle.
What a difference a year makes, indeed.
Seemingly out of steam Wednesday evening, Kenny Williams said he didn’t expect any more movement in the near future which, at the very least, would stop the bleeding.
Williams thought he was coming to Dallas with some quality goods with which to barter. Instead he loses two high profile pitchers and gets back a young pitcher that not many people know much about, including Williams himself.
On Tuesday after Nestor Molina was acquired from the Blue Jays, Williams said the right-hander was pitching well in winter ball. Later it was discovered that Molina hadn’t thrown an inning this winter as the Blue Jays shut him down to prevent him from accumulating innings.
To say these winter meetings didn’t go the way the White Sox expected is an understatement. Williams was asked if there was less activity than expected.
“Yeah, but not just from us,” he said. “I had gone into these meetings thinking these would be more trade meetings than free-agent meetings. I think it’s turned out to be quite the opposite.”
The Florida Marlins have stolen the show, including one of the White Sox’s most popular players.
“I’m always disappointed that we don’t get more done,” Williams said. “Even when we do get something done it always seems like it’s not enough. It’s just the nature of the business.”
As he sees it now, Williams says he doesn’t expect to trade any more of his pitching. But that could change if somebody wows him with an offer for Danks or Floyd.
“The price is high,” Williams said. “They’re pretty good pitchers, pretty good players and I’m not so sure people want me to set the price low. I don’t know that that would be too smart.”
With just one day to go in these meetings a report surfaced that the most popular White Sox player being asked for by rival general managers was Brent Lillibridge. That couldn’t have been what the White Sox expected.
“I think I stood in front of you guys when the offseason began and said we would explore all opportunities but not attempt to do anything unless it could bring a potential impact player back – or players,” Williams said. “That hasn’t come about and we are where we are.
“It’s not the worst thing in the world to go into the season with pitching that you like and position players that you like and you just hope a few of them will rebound. If we can do a little bit of both, rebuilding of the minor-league system and compete at the major-league level, that’s not the worst thing in the world. We’ll try to evolve from there.”
Castro, who was believed to be lost for the season with a broken right hand, said there is an outside chance he could be ready to play during the last week of the season.
Castro said doctors have told him his injury, that required four pins to be inserted into the area of the knuckle at his right index finger, is healing faster than expected. He has already started a throwing program but is running out of time before the season ends in two weeks.
Lillibridge, who suffered a fracture in his right hand earlier in the homestand, was still with the team despite getting the clearance from manager Ozzie Guillen to return to his home in Seattle.
Lillibridge said he wanted to stay with the club as much as possible. He will go to Seattle when the White Sox go on their upcoming road trip, but will return again for the last six home games of the season.
Wearing a hard cast, Lillibridge said he will have his injury examined during the last week of the season in the hopes he can switch to a soft cast. He already has plans to start a hitting program in November and be at full strength for the start of spring training.
They were coming because of the news that he would miss the last few weeks of the season because of a fracture in his fifth metacarpal after he was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning.
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Lillibridge didn’t hesitate to admit that even he’s surprised by the number of times he’s broken out his home run trot.
Manager Ozzie Guillen wasn’t shocked by Lillibridge’s power, but is with how he’s found his way into the lineup on a consistent basis.
“I think this kid is a very strong kid. I never thought he’d hit 11 because I didn’t think he’d have that much opportunity to play,” Guillen said. “This kid, when he hit it, he hit it pretty far.”
Guillen also praised Lillibridge for his versatility on defense. He’s provided a strong glove in the outfield and filled in at first base with Paul Konerko unable to play the field with a calf injury. The fact that Lillibridge had never played first base until earlier this month, yet has made a near seamless transition is just another feather in his cap.
“It’s not one of my fortes,” Lillibridge said of playing first base. “Given a chance to have a right against a lefty and letting Pauly continue to DH and make sure he’s ready when he’s ready has been huge for us. He’s been able to swing the bat and he’s been producing off the DH role. When he’s ready, then I’ll gladly let him do first base and just do my role.”