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Roster review: Jeff Kobernus

Nov 19, 2013, 12:02 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

Age on Opening Day 2014: 25

How acquired: Draft (2nd round), June 2009

MLB service time: 63 days

2013 salary+bonuses: N/A

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2017, free agent in 2020

2013 Stats: 24 G, 36 PA, 30 AB, 8 R, 5 H, HR, RBI, 3 SB, 2 CS, 5 BB, 6 SO, .167 BA, .572 OPS, -0.1 WAR

2013 analysis: Returned to the Nationals from Detroit via the Rule 5 Draft in March, Jeff Kobernus himself probably didn’t expect to make an impact at the major league level this season. Injuries, however, created a void for the Nationals, and Kobernus’ versatility as an infielder and outfielder made him attractive for a call-up. The Cal product ended up playing with 24 games and showed his impressive range of tools, but never really got a chance for regular at-bats to show whether he belonged. The result was a .167 average, far lower than his .318 clip at Triple-A this year.

Kobernus was able to showcase his speed on the basepaths with three stolen bases and eight runs, many of them manufactured in small ball situations. Davey Johnson used Kobernus as a pinch-runner often as the season winded down and the 25-year-old proved quite good at it. He scored runs in four straight games in late September, three of them as a pinch-runner. Kobernus has posted at least 42 stolen bases in three consecutive minor league seasons, so it’s not a fluke. He’s fast and that translated to the Nats in his brief time with them.

2014 outlook: Kobernus certainly made his case to get a more extended look in the big leagues, but more time at Triple-A Syracuse is probably in his future. The problem is simply timing. The Nats’ bench was so bad last year that they’ll likely go dramatically in the other direction, signing veterans to compensate for the lack of experience that plagued them in 2013.

For Kobernus, or any of the Nats’ young position players, that may mean waiting a little longer. And with Steve Lombardozzi in store, the Nats already have their backup middle infielder. Kobernus could probably help the Nationals in a bench role, but a little more seasoning in the minors could also benefit him. Either way, he’ll be right on the cusp and will certainly be seen in Washington at some point in 2014.

  1. pdowdy83 - Nov 19, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    I just can’t seem to figure out why Lombardozzi keeps getting mentioned like it is a lock he is on the team next year. Yes he has positional flexibility and sure hands but he has a pretty weak arm and doesn’t have a ton of range in the middle infield. He has over 750 plate appearances and a sub .300 OBP. He isn’t overly fast either so pinch running isn’t really his strong suit. I understand the need for a guy who switch hits and can cover lots of positions but couldn’t Zach Walters do the same while also adding in power and a bit more speed?

    If you go with Walters, Hairston and Moore you can still find a solid 4th outfielder and a backup catcher. I vote for Tyler Colvin since he can play all 3 outfield positions, hits left handed and has power. I also vote for Dioner Navarro for catcher if you can get him.

    • Doc - Nov 19, 2013 at 1:15 PM

      Agreed, pddowdy, lots of guys to look at besides Lombo.

      Kobernus is one of them. Baseball, unfortunately, frequently adheres to its’ unwritten seniority/tenure rule which would seem to give Lombo opportunities beyond Koberrnus.

      Williams has almost free rein to turn it around. For my understanding, Kobernus is a better Lombo.

      • sjm308 - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:38 PM

        Add me to the club that gets confused about the love for Lombo. Yes he hustles, is gritty etc but I think he has reached his peak and has proved that he is not a major league starter. I don’t dislike what he brings to the club but he really can only play 2nd base. This is another reason I like Espinosa. Walters intrigues me with his power but all those errors last year bother me as well.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 3:34 PM

        sjm, agreed on Lombo. He didn’t break out from the pack last year and was given opportunities. He is an emergency stopgap who can field multiple positions and was the teams best PH which speaks volumes of the ineptitude of the 2013 bench.

        Until Zach Walters shows he can field the middle infield without booting balls at least once a week he can’t be considered a contender for the bench.

      • pdowdy83 - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:49 PM

        Ghost, isn’t Walters booting balls what would lead him to the bench vs a future as a starter? I have heard Syracuse if a very tough environment to play in and his errors were even further up this year. Is that something that could have contributed to it? Also I can’t find a break down of whether or not fielding errors or throwing errors are his real issue.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 5:15 PM

        Pdowdy, the errors I saw in person was fielding errors with balls hit to his glove side that clanked off his glove. In 1 weekend I saw 3 errors and the official scorer felt sorry for him as he deserved a couple more. This is why Arizona got rid of him. On the positive side, he stepped up with the bat .Davey didn’t trust him in the field, will Matty?

        I’m hoping he gets outfield and 1st base reps. I just don’t know if he can be even bench quality other than as a September callup.

    • letswin3 - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:27 PM

      I’m hopeful that Walters becomes part of the discussion, with ST playing a big role in at least one of the bench positions. The club will likely buy some experienced bench bats and a catcher, but Lombo should expect to face competition for his spot.

  2. Joe Seamhead - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    I only see Kobernus playing 2B, as he got pretty bad reads when in the OF with a low-to-middle arm. He is a good base runner, and his batting stats were certainly on too small of a sample size to make any judgements.

  3. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 19, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Anybody notice how “more time at AAA seems to be in his future” is a theme of a lot of these assessments?

    This could mean “the Nats have a lot of AAA/AAAA players,” which is not a good thing. And it could also mean the Nats are unwilling to give extended looks to guys not named Moore who have had good results at AAA. At some point they’ve got to break this pattern. For years we’ve wanted a RH-hitting OF with power, speed, D and a good arm — now they’ve got Souza, What are they going to do w/ him? Have him sign autographs/sell programs at Syracuse for another year? Did they send him to AZ just to make him tradeable?

    The can finish out of the playoffs with the “kids” just as easily as with the Hairstons, etc. of the world. If that isn’t a plan, sign some veterans who can hit — at lease occasionally.

    • habs3 - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      You comment is spot on.

    • therealjohnc - Nov 20, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      Souza can’t sign autographs/sell programs at Syracuse for another year, because he hasn’t played an inning above AA ball yet. They probably sent him to Arizona to get him some more baseball this year (he missed about 1/3 of the season with injuries in Harrisburg) and for one last look before making the call on adding him to the 40 man roster. Souza will come to camp dueling with Corey Brown, Eury Perez and anyone else the Nats add to the mix for the Bernadina role (with Hairston in the 5th OF/bench bat slot). Souza almost certainly starts the season in Syracuse, as the Chiefs will likely have a very fast and athletic OF (Souza, Perez and likely Billy Burns). Injuries and the ebb and flow of the season will determine P/T in both Syracuse and DC.

  4. Faraz Shaikh - Nov 19, 2013 at 3:27 PM

    It is gonna be hard to give these guys a look when except 1B, all other positions are locked in for next several years. harper, span, werth in OF and RZ, desi, and rendon in IF will be at their respective positions for at least next 2-3 years. do you walter, kobernus, etc to handle bench duties? if they fail, then what? try other minor leaguers? none of these folks are lighting up minors anyway.

    • habs3 - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      I think your comment is spot on.

      • habs3 - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:36 PM

        Sorry my comment was intended for Theo.

  5. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 3:29 PM

    Chris Young the pitcher is back.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Nov 19, 2013 at 3:35 PM

      do you know his base salary last season?

  6. Section 222 - Nov 19, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    I’d like to see Kobernus, Lombo, and Walters fight it out for the utility infielder spot. As I’ve noted before, we really don’t need a late inning defensive replacement at any of our infield positions, so the key attributes for this position are versatility (in order to be able to cover as many of the 3 infield positions as possible if there is a late scratch or someone needs a day off), and hitting ability both as a PH and an occasional replacement player. If one of them blossoms this spring on that second score, then I would keep him. Kobernus’s speed is a definite asset to consider in his favor. But the bottom line is that our bench simply must hit better next year, and we didn’t see much of a major league hitter in time with the team last year.

  7. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    Looks like Rizzo can cross Javier Lopez off his list of bullpen lefties.

  8. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 19, 2013 at 5:32 PM

    Kind of depressing on this bench discussion. Nobody feels strongly on any of these players. I think that is why Lombo keeps his job unless he gets traded. Espinosa has a golden opportunity to work his way back in if he can hit again. We know he can play GG calibre D, he just can’t be counted on coming off the bench with a bat.

    • David Proctor - Nov 19, 2013 at 5:40 PM

      To me, Lombardozzi is the safe player in that you know what you’ll get. He can handle the bat, drop down bunts (both for hits and sacs), hit a sac fly, etc. Should he be an absolute lock? No. He’s not good enough for that. But I think replacing him should be down some on the priority list. If there’s someone clearly better on the FA market or Lombo gets outplayed badly in Spring Training, then yeah, replace him.

  9. David Proctor - Nov 19, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    Washington Nationals ‏@Nationals 3m
    The #Nats have agreed to terms w/Bob Henley as 3B coach, promoting him from minor lg. field coordinator. This will be his 11th season w/Nats

    • Theophilus T.S. - Nov 19, 2013 at 6:38 PM

      This is good. The most important coaching positions are all filled with guys who have known all of the home-grown talent for years.

  10. Theophilus T.S. - Nov 19, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    I confess to being all over the place on the bench issue. Much of it reflects despair over the team’s unwillingness to pull the trigger on capable but more expensive veterans. Point One,, as somebody said early today (I think), it’s not like we’re talking about long-term, $10-$20MM deals. Point Two, they’ve already got a lot of sunk money in AAA/AAAA players that they tout when it suits their interest to do so but are unwilling to bet on when the chips are down.

    My conclusion is that Rizzo, except on a catcher, or maybe a relief pitcher, will be unwilling to commit meaningful dollars to a veteran FA. Right now, probably for today only, my choices for the remaining bench positions are Moore (RH masher); Souza (RH spare OF and 30-days in the lineup replacement if one of the three starters pulls a hammy); Brown; LF spare OF and masher); Kobernus (UT IF), though the choice between Kobernus and Lombardozzi is narrow — the edge being that if forced into the lineup on a daily basis for two-three weeks Kobernus would bring some badly needed speed on the basepaths. Syracuse is only an hour-and-a half away.

    My feelings on this are likely to change on a daily basis.

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