Lillibridge key to filling final roster spot

Robin Ventura believes Brent Lillibridge can be most valuable backing up in the infield. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When it comes to filling the White Sox's final position player roster spot, the criteria isn't as basic as going with the player who has the best bat.

"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.

For a player like Johnson, who signed as a free agent, this spring is about showing he's fully recovered from a wrist injury that caused nerve damage last season. Johnson, who helped the Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason with a game-tying ninth inning pinch-hit home run on the last day of the regular season, can play first base, outfield and third base, where he played exclusively for a season in Japan.

"I've got to out out and show that I'm healthy enough," Johnson said. "After last year, taking an injury like that where you can't really put your finger on it when it ends up being nerves in my wrist, I've just got to be able to go out and show that I can still swing and feel good and help the team out."

McPherson, a non-roster invitee to White Sox spring training for the second straight season, spent time at both first and third base last season at Triple-A Charlotte, where he hit 20 home runs, 27 doubles and 69 RBI. He spent this offseason working on his mechanics at the plate so that come spring he could focus more on his timing.

"Let's be honest, I've never found a way to have a real strong spring," McPherson said. "I haven't found the secret yet. Hopefully this year I have. We'll see. Obviously it's early."

Gallagher, who has experience at first base and in the outfield, was named the best defensive first baseman in the International League by Baseball America, ranked second in doubles (39) in the league and drew the most walks (62) amongst White Sox minor leaguers. Gallagher said he added muscle this season and entered spring training at 208 pounds; he's never played above 198.

"I feel I'm capable of being a part of this team," Gallagher said. "I feel like I can play at this level and this is my opportunity to go out and prove it to them and if I prove it to them and they feel like they're ready to have me on the team then I'll be pretty excited."