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Tigers 2013 Player Preview: Can Jeff Kobernus' wheels earn him a spot in Detroit?

Jeff Kobernus stole 95 bases during the past two minor-league seasons. Detroit added him to the roster via the Rule 5 draft this past year. But does he have what it takes to stay on the Tigers' roster all season?

Doug Pensinger

There are still 18 days until spring training, but Rob and I feel like we might be caught up by double posting today. So while Rob wrote about Casey Crosby earlier today, I am writing about Don Kelly "the next Don Kelly," Jeff Kobernus.

Jeff Kobernus

#0 / Second Base / Detroit Tigers





Jun 30, 1988

What happened last season?

Kobernus spent the 2012 season with Double-A Harrisburg, where he hit .282 with little power and just 19 walks in 366 plate appearances. However, he did steal 42 bases for a two-year total of 95. By now -- with that whole base-stealing thing -- it should be quite apparent that Kobernus was not playing in the Tigers organization. He was, in fact, with the Washington Nationals' organization. The Tigers took him in the Rule 5 Draft (via a trade that sent Jeff Henry to the Red Sox).

And since you asked, yes, he can play second base. He's spent time at both middle infield positions.

Ranking Kobernus No. 6 in the Nationals system, Marc Hulet at Fangraphs wrote about him:

When I asked a contact about Kobernus, he described the prospect as a "table-setter" who sprays line drives with gap strength. He also provides steady defense at second base. Although he's played the keystone almost exclusively in his career there has been some talk of expanding his defensive repertoire to include other positions - in an effort to perhaps prepare him for a future utility role - but a cracked rib derailed the experiment during the fall instructional league.

What needs to happen in 2013?

Well, first, he needs to make the Tigers' active roster, and he needs to stay on the Tigers' active roster, or else Rule 5 rules require Detroit to offer him back to his former organization. Naturally, the more interesting question is, what does he need to do to make the team?

Well, the No. 1 rule to becoming the next Don Kelly is surpassing the current Don Kelly -- Jim Leyland's youngest nephew (at least, we think that's the case) signed a minor-league deal with the organization, and there's only room for one Donnie Kelly.

To do that, Kobernus is going to have to show he's got some value as an outfielder as well as an infielder. The true reason Kelly always stuck around with the club even though most assumed he had naughty pictures of Leyland is that he could be worked into quite a few situations that might arise during a game: defensive replacement infield, outfield or, apparently, emergency catcher. He could pinch run. He could provide bullpen help. Of course, what he didn't do was hit well with any consistency. But if he did, he'd be a starter, not a role player, right? That's the way this role-playing thing works.

So Kobernus has to provide his new manager with a lot of flexibility. The advantage he has over Kelly, and probably the reason the Tigers added him in the first place, is the ability to steal bases. Chasing after steals isn't really a necessity, per se. Different rosters find different ways to score runs. There's no one-size-fits-all format despite what the traditionalists or the pickled voices you hear on sports talk radio tell you. Yet at least having a threat, having a player or two who can execute when the situation calls for it, seems like a no-brainer. Sometimes, you know, you just need a fast guy who makes the pitcher and catcher think a bit or who can rip around the bases to score an all-important late-innings run.

That's Kobernus.

2012/2013 projection

2012 / Double-A
366 .282 .325 .333 2 19 42 19 57
2013 ZiPS projection 464 .252 .279 .316 3 38 31 16 97
Bottom line, what do I think?

It's really hard to project a Rule 5 guy. Essentially, the Tigers made a low-risk trade that they hope will have some reward. If he is a capable utility player, he adds a piece to the puzzle. If he goes beyond that, maybe the Tigers have a second baseman for a season or two after Omar Infante's contract is up. And if none of of this happens the cost of Justin Henry and maybe some petty cash wasn't much to pay to take a closer look.

Kobernus has a shot to make the team. He offers some competition to Kelly, Danny Worth and possibly Quintin Berry if he adds the outfield component.

He might make it. He might not. I really have no clue. But it sure would be nice to see a little more speed on the team, wouldn't it?