Brent Lillibridge is the new Ben Zobrist?

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There are some definite similarities. Neither was particularly heralded coming out of college.  Lillibridge was the Pirates’ fourth-round pick in 2005. Zobrist was a sixth-rounder a year earlier. Both primarily played shortstop coming up. Both were very good on-base guys in the minors who struggled mightily in their initial looks in the majors. Lillibridge hit .194/254/.297 in 273 at-bats for the Braves and White Sox from 2008-10, his age 24-26 season.  Zobrist his .200/.234/.275 in 280 at-bats for the Rays in 2006-07, his age-25-26 seasons.

Zobrist busted out at age 27 before turning in an MVP-caliber season at 28.

Lillibridge certainly seems to be busting out at age 27. He just took Tim Wakefield deep in the game against the Red Sox for his sixth homer in 63 at-bats this season. In his previous at-bat, he hit a double high off the Green Monster that would hit have been a homer in any other ballpark. For the season, he’s at .317/.397/.683.

Of course, 60 at-bats is still a pretty small sample. And Lillibridge doesn’t quite have Zobrist’s track record. While unlike Zobrist, he made a Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list, coming in at No. 93 after hitting .305/.419/.480 for two A-ball teams in 2006, he was never very good in the high minors. In fact, he was a career .255/.321/.379 hitter in 1,247 Triple-A at-bats.  Zobrist was much better, hitting .301/.416/.464 in 362 Triple-A at-bats.

Still, the White Sox need to play Lillibridge every day to see if this is a fluke or not. He’s not a paricularly good defender in the infield, but he’s excellent in the outfield corners, as he showed in a win over the Yankees earlier this season. He doesn’t have to keep hitting like this in order to be an upgrade over Juan Pierre.

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.