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Jeff Kobernus was far from a lock to make the
Detroit Tigers’ active roster out of camp this spring as a Rule 5 draftee, and
he didn’t really help his own cause. In 50 spring at-bats, Kobernus tallied
nine singles and two triples, putting up a .220/.291/.300 triple slash while
being caught in both of his stolen base attempts.
After being forced to miss the second half of the 2012 season
due to a rib injury, Kobernus was an unknown quantity, enough for the Nationals
to risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft by not placing him on the 40-man roster
and also enough for the Tigers to return him before the season started.
Kobernus was returned to the Nats on March 23 and started out the season in AAA
for the Syracuse Chiefs. One could expect the combination of a poor Spring and
the disappointment of not making the big league squad could have led to a
mediocre start to the year. In this case, it is exactly the opposite.
In his first six games for Syracuse, Kobernus has 12 hits in 22
at-bats, good for a .545/.593/.818 triple slash. He’s scored eight times and
has three extra base hits to go with his six RBI’s. The hot start of the season
doesn’t prove that Kobernus is any more of a prospect than he was at the end of
the season last year, but it does merit at least a second look at his future
within the Major Leagues.
Kobernus is a solid defender, and despite having played all but
8 games of his minor league career at 2B, he has decent enough range to play SS
and the OF in a utility-type role. He doesn’t have a great arm, so a full-time
job at 3B or SS would be a push, but he can hack it in LF and at 2B with ease.
With great speed and baserunning ability to go with some line-drive power, he
has standard utility man tools, but doesn’t appear to have enough power or patience
to be a true leadoff candidate.
Kobernus’ main issue right now is a lack of a path to the big
leagues. With Steve Lombardozzi already occupying the utility spot for the
Nats, an injury would have to occur for him to get a longer look. The Nationals
are also known to be high on Zach Walters’ potential, and minor league free
agent signing Will Rhymes is still around as well, so there is no guarantee
Kobernus would get the call even if Desmond, Espinosa or Lombardozzi had to
take a trip to the DL. I can see Jeff Kobernus carving out a nice career in the
big leagues as a utility guy, but as it stands right now, I doubt it would
happen with the Nationals due to their middle infield depth. Look for him to be
moved at the trade deadline or taken again in next year’s Rule 5 draft if he
has a decent year.