Out of options, Marquez, Lillibridge seek spots

Out of options, Marquez, Lillibridge seek spots

MESA, Ariz. -- The professional job descriptions for Jeff Marquez and Brent Lillibridge differ as much as would be expected for a long reliever and a utility outfielder/infielder.

Yet, these two young ballplayers have traveled the same basic path from the time they arrived with the White Sox to their present 2011 roster bubble status.

Marquez, 26, came to the South Side from the Yankees as part of the five-player trade on Nov. 13, 2008, centered on Nick Swisher's departure. Upon arrival, Marquez's sinker was favorably compared at a rawer stage to that of Jon Garland, one of the starting pitchers who helped the White Sox win the 2005 World Series.

Lillibridge, 27, moved to Chicago by way of a six-player deal involving right-handed starter Javier Vazquez being shipped to Atlanta on Dec. 5, 2008. The fleet-footed right-handed hitter immediately was labeled with the potential to bat leadoff and possibly play center field for the White Sox.

Since those respective trades, Lillibridge has 110 combined at-bats for the White Sox and Marquez threw exactly one inning in one game with the White Sox last season. After hitting just .219 for the White Sox in 2008, Swisher contributed to the Yankees' 2009 championship run. Vazquez now pitches for Florida, his sixth team, but remains a viable double-digit winner.

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Other players coming over to the White Sox in these trades, such as the ever-improving Tyler Flowers and reliever Jhonny Nunez, haven't quite panned out as expected. So, it's unfair to pin an uneven return on just Marquez and Lillibridge.

It's the sort of inherent pressure eventually brushed aside by Lillibridge and Marquez to focus on getting to the Major League level and staying there.

"That kind of pressure is not good for you when going out there," Marquez said. "I try to eliminate as much pressure as possible, and just go out there and perform."

"You know, the biggest thing was me trying to prove I belonged and that kind of got me away from what I do," said the well-spoken Lillibridge, now holding a firm grasp on what he needs to do to succeed. "When I had great success in the past, I just played."

As a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft and a high-rated prospect in the Braves system after a January 2007 trade, Lillibridge grew accustomed to getting regular at-bats and playing every day. His adjustment came in the transfer to a White Sox bench reinforcement, playing sporadically.

"Just a huge change," Lillibridge said. "It finally started clicking last year on how to do that."

Although a 7-for-65 finish dropped his final average to .224, Lillibridge not only proved to be a versatile defensive player around the field but also a capable hitter off the bench. He tied for first among American League pinch-hitters with five extra-base hits and tied for second with seven RBIs.

A stellar 2007 Minor League season for Marquez, during which he finished 15-9 with a 3.65 ERA over 27 starts, put him on the Yankees' starters map. He not only slipped off on the East Coast, but two bone spurs and a stress fracture in his pitching elbow, eventually repaired by Dr. James Andrews on July 28, limited his 2009 work with the White Sox and seemingly dropped him to the back of the prospect pack.

Now, with a new cutter at his disposal, Marquez feels as good as he has since coming to the White Sox. In a spot start on Monday in Peoria, Ariz., Marquez worked four innings. He'll get another chance to start Saturday at Camelback Ranch.

"I'm going out there and pitching well," Marquez said. "I'm doing what I can do on my end and trying to make it a tougher decision for them."

Jake Peavy's blip in his ongoing rehab and recovery means the White Sox will take 12 pitchers when they break camp, while also temporarily opening up a fifth-starter spot. Philip Humber, who allowed seven runs over 4 1/3 innings during Thursday's 8-7 loss to the Cubs in Mesa, appears to have that clear edge, meaning Marquez will leave Arizona as the long reliever.

That roster math also adds up to one spot existing between Lillibridge and Lastings Milledge for the 25th man. Milledge has put up impressive Cactus League numbers, and with Lillibridge and fellow reserve Mark Teahen being more of an infield/outfield hybrid, Milledge becomes the only true outfielder in reserve.

Then again, Lillibridge has proved more than capable in the outfield, while adding the ability to handle infield spots and provide speed off the bench. Lillibridge is out of options, meaning if he doesn't make the White Sox roster, he could be claimed by another team. Milledge is at camp on a non-roster invite through a Minor League deal.

No options are left for Marquez either, so another similarity exists with Lillibridge's plight. They not only are playing for their immediate White Sox future but simply to remain in the Major Leagues.

Both players aspire to more regular, set roles at some point in their careers. For now, they are willing to be a small cog in the White Sox machine.

"They have a decision and I'm hoping they make it soon, just for the mental side so we can both get ready and on our way, whatever it's going to be," said Lillibridge, referring to the battle with Milledge, which manager Ozzie Guillen said could be decided by Monday. "I feel good, and I love this team.

"Absolutely, I don't believe I belong in Triple-A. The opportunities I've had, hitting-wise, I've had 300 big league at-bats and it's hard to prove anything in three years, but I hope to get another opportunity.

"Getting in there, the tools of being able to play everywhere, should be helpful for me," Lillibridge said. "If I end up with a chance to play somewhere else and this doesn't work out, that's great. But it would be tough to walk away if that becomes the situation. Either way, I'll be really happy to be walking to Chicago or I'll be sad and ready for a new journey if it's the other way around."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.