GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs' 25-man roster is so thin right now that a non-roster invitee may be the key player backing up seven different positions.
Utility man Brent Lillibridge is that player. The veteran infielder-outfielder played for the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians last season. After not drawing any interest in the offseason, he a signed minor league contract with the Cubs this winter.
Due to injuries and a general lack of depth, Lillibridge is getting a look at every position this spring from Cubs manager Dale Sveum and his staff.
“If we were starting (the season ) today, Lillibridge has a chance of being a super utility player,” Sveum said when asked who would back up first and third base. “Those would be one-day things.”
For his part, Lillibridge is prepared to seize the moment.
“You always want to hear that you are on the radar,” Lillibridge said. “I am going to do what I have done every spring training -- get my work in and try to have good at-bats. I have been working my butt off all winter to be ready for an opportunity. If I showcase what I can do, then it will be a no-brainer for them. If that happens, hopefully I will be in Chicago soon.”
The Cubs are expecting their young infield starters to play at least 155 games, barring injury. But the team will need a versatile performer off the bench who can lead off against left-handed starters when David DeJesus is sitting a game out. Lillibridge has that kind of experience.
“You are talking about things -- you have to cross that bridge when you come to them,” Sveum said. “I hope (Starlin) Castro plays in 160 games again and (Anthony) Rizzo plays in 160. These are things that you push a button when something happens. We are not building a team for that. (When) injuries do happen, you can bring a guy up from Triple A or go from there.”
The Cubs are not in a position to build from the back of the 25-man roster forward and must guess at some of their options. The team has a shaky third base rotation as well as little outfield depth in the organization.
The Cubs do have some depth at catcher. Last season’s backup catcher Steve Clevenger has already been told he will start the season as the Triple-A receiver.
“He has a nice swing,” Sveum said. “He swung and missed less than anyone in baseball for at-bat ratio. It is just about making the adjustment about how people are going to pitch you. He needs to understand how people are pitching him and change his approach to cover certain pitches.”