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.