One of the key components of the Adam LaRoche to Pittsburgh deal in early 2007 was shortstop Brent Lillibridge, who came over to the Braves along with Mike Gonzalez. Lillibridge, who had a decent shot of making the Braves as a utility player this spring, was one of the team’s final cuts and will start the year in Richmond.
Lillibridge’s instincts have always drawn raves and he’s matured quickly. Many would argue he’s Major League ready now. But for the foreseeable future he’s blocked by Yunel Escobar, himself a newly appointed starter. Lillibridge managed a .400 OBP during two Class-A stops in 2006. In 2007 he hit 10 homers in 87 games at Triple-A Richmond and projects as a 15-20 HR guy in the bigs. He’s got good, but not blazing speed. Yet in 309 minor league games he’s swiped 105 bases, including 28 with an 85% success rate in Richmond. It’s the instincts, man.
However, with Escobar’s fantastic close to the 2007 season there was little doubt who the Braves starting shortstop would be going into 2008. Lillibridge had a shot to make the team as a utility player, and in early March was even given a surprise start at third by manager Bobby Cox despite not having played the position since the 2004 Cape Cod summer league. "He can play, man," said Cox after the game when questioned about the move. Lillibridge also saw time at second and in center (where he spent two seasons in college) during the spring.
The reason he didn’t head north with the team this year was partly because he hit just .224 this spring (and led the team with 18 whiffs), but also because the team would like to get him regular at bats, something that wouldn’t happen if he’d made the team as a bench player. At the very least a late season callup seems in order, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’d get some starts in center should Mark Kotsay‘s back flare up.
You get the feeling Cox would like to find a place for Lillibridge. His name often surfaces in trade talks, but that probably has more to do with other GMs coveting him than any willingness to deal on the part of the Braves. Still, it’s fun to think about what an "intangibles" kind of player like Lillibridge might fetch. He could end up being a key piece to the Braves getting a top player for the stretch run.