Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Look at Jeff Kobernus

The Red Sox selected Jeff Kobernus from the Washington Nationals in the Rule 5 Draft, then immediately traded him to the Tigers for Justin Henry.  Not a very highly touted prospect, John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked him 19th among Washington Nationals prospects before the 2012 season, Kobernus is expected to contribute at the major league level, if not as a starter then as a bench player.  The Tigers are now without Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly, so Kobernus could potentially take one of their roles, but he has to remain on the 25-man roster all year or risk losing him. 

Kobernus has been pretty consistent on AVG and OBP, while showing a little boost of power in 2011, though below average overall:

2010 (A) - .279/.316/.346, 5.0% BB%, 16.9% K%
2011 (A+) - .282/.313/.387, 4.0%, BB%, 16.7% K%
2012 (AA) - .282/.325/.333, 5.2% BB%, 15.6% K%

Kobernus has below average walk rates, which have resulted in below average on-base percentages.  This could prevent him from being a top of the order hitter, which is what he was projected to be when he was drafted.  Another issue seems to be durability, as he has only surpassed 500 PA once, in 2011 and might already be labeled as injury-prone.

As a right-handed bat, he hits much better against left-handed pitching.  2011-2012 totals:

Vs. LHP - .313/.357/.429, 6.7% BB%, 11.6% K%
Vs. RHP - .269/.298/.338, 3.5% BB%, 18.5% K%

The Tigers are actively looking for a right-handed OF to platoon with Andy Dirks in LF, although they probably want someone with more power and experience than Kobernus.  If these numbers translate to the ML level, then Kobernus might be a pretty good platoon player, getting most of his playing time against left-handed pitching.

Kobernus’ best asset is his speed.  He has stolen 120 bases in only 290 games, including 53 in 2011 and 42 in 2012.    It’s a shame that he doesn’t have a better walk rate, as he could be seen as a future lead-off hitter instead of a fringe starter/bench player.  His great speed could mean that Quintin Berry wouldn’t have a role as they would be similar players with similar roles.

As far as defense, Kobernus is seen as an above average defensive second baseman, having above average range and a good arm.  Save for 4 games at SS, he has always been a second baseman, which could hurt him from being a ML player if he can’t hit well enough to be a starter.  The Tigers seem to think he can play the OF, which could give him Ryan Rabun-like versatility as far as defense is concerned, but much better.

The Tigers are definitely focusing on speed and defense as his hitting isn’t going to wow anyone.  If Kobernus can play above average defense in the OF as he can at 2B, he’ll likely stay on the roster all year and could carve out a nice career as a bench player.  Quintin Berry provided a bit of a spark last year with his speed and the Tigers are probably banking on Kobernus to do the same in 2013 (regardless of how Berry projects in the future, it was exciting to see his speed, at least for the first month).  With Omar Infante’s contract running out at the end of the year, Kobernus could be in competition for the starting 2B job in 2014 if he impresses enough in 2013.

Tiger fans should be excited, if only for the possibility of great defense and speed off the bench.  He might not have the impact of a Dan Uggla, but the Nationals could regret losing him in a few years.  Unless, of course, the injuries become a problem, a legitimate concern.  The Tigers are expected to contend in 2013, so it might seem strange to take a chance on a player that hasn't played above AA.  But considering the role he'll be in and the players he's replacing, it's a risk worth taking.  

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