Rule 5 pick Kobernus in outfield mix

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jeff Kobernus spent the last few years as a second baseman in a middle-infield logjam in the Washington Nationals' farm system. He never played a game in the outfield in the Minors.

Kobernus is about to enter the Tigers' outfield mix.

He knew he had a better shot at making it to the big leagues when Detroit selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. He just didn't know where.

"It's exciting," Kobernus said.

The Tigers had Kobernus' outfield capabilities in mind when they plucked him from the Nationals' roster in December. At the time, though, they were still exploring possible outfielders on the open market who could serve as a right-handed hitting complement to Andy Dirks in left field.

The Tigers didn't sign anyone. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week they could still swing a trade this spring, but they're going to look at what they have in camp first. Top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos are intriguing options, but Dombrowski has said he doesn't want to stunt their development by promoting them to the big leagues if their playing time is going to be limited.

Garcia platooned in right field down the stretch last season, but that was after the Minor League season had ended.

As a Rule 5 pick, Kobernus, the Tigers' No. 16 prospect, has to make the big leagues, or else the Tigers have to offer him back to the Nationals. Between his situation, his right-handed bat and his speed, he's going to get a good look.

"I think he's a very interesting guy," manager Jim Leyland said, "and he will definitely get every possible look, being a Rule 5 guy, to see if he's a fit or not. I have no idea at this juncture whether he is or he isn't, but I trust our scouts, and he was recommended, and we took him, and he's an interesting guy."

Kobernus has a track record of hitting left-handed pitching, batting .326 off southpaws last year at Double-A Harrisburg and .306 in 2011.

Leyland mentioned reports have also been positive about Kobernus as a second baseman. He won't see much time there, obviously, with Omar Infante entrenched. He'll still get a good share of work with the infielders this spring.

The outfield work will start with drills, possibly some extra fly balls after workouts with Tom Brookens and other coaches. How it develops after that remains to be seen.

"I worked there a fairly decent amount in the offseason and I played [there] in college," Kobernus said. "It's just kind of one of those things that, once I get back doing it, I start to feel more and more comfortable. Doing the reps, you get more comfortable and just try to improve every day."