Kopernus, Lobstein and the Rule 5 Draft

When the Tigers were in full scale rebuilding mode they were extremely active in the annual Rule 5 draft, popping players like Chris Shelton, Wil Ledezma, Lino Urdaneta and Chris Spurling in consecutive years. Since then, their activity has decreased considerably, at least until Thursday's draft when they added two players to the big league 40-man roster!

While the Tigers officially passed on their pick in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft, they were active in adding two new players via trade. After the Boston Red Sox selected second baseman Jeff Kobernus from the Nationals, the Tigers swapped utility player Justin Henry for him. In addition, after the Mets picked left-hander Kyle Lobstein from the Rays, the Tigers paid cash to pull him into their hands.

Kobernus reached Double-A in 2012, playing in only 82 games for Harrisburg while being hampered by a host of small injuries. When he was on the field, Kobernus managed a solid .282 batting average with 19 walks and just 57 strikeouts. His biggest statistical standout was swiping 42 bases in 53 attemps, giving him 120 steals in 290 professional games.

As evidenced by his stolen base totals, Kobernus' best tool is his plus speed. He has good instincts on the bases, getting good jumps on both right-handers and left-handers. His hitting ability is questioned by some scouts but there is enough there to believe he can hit .270 – albeit a relatively empty .270 – in the big leagues. Kobernus lacks any significant power and is more of a slap hitter.

Despite playing a handful of games at shortstop in the past, Kobernus doesn't fit well on the left side of the infield. He has playable hands at second base and good range. He hangs in well on the double play and his arm is solid. Some scouts believe he has the baseball instincts to handle the outfield on occasion as well.

With a limited offensive profile, Kobernus fits the bill of a utility player, particularly if he can expand his versatility and add the outfield and possibly third base to his resume.

With Lobstein, the Tigers added another pitcher to the competitive mix for the bullpen in spring training. Lobstein has been a starter for all but one game in his minor league career, but it is difficult to project him in that role long term. With a fastball that sits in the 87-88 mph range, scraping 90 on occasion, Lobstein needs to refine his command of the strike zone to have sustained success.

His change-up is a weapon that is effective against both left-handed and right-handed hitters, and it will induce some big swings and misses at times. The curveball Lobstein employs lags behind his change-up, typically grading as a fringe-average pitch and not of high enough quality to truly be reliable. Without that curveball, Lobstein may struggle in a relief role, relegating him more to a swingman projection.

Both players will enter spring training with a chance to make the Tigers Opening Day roster. Kobernus will have to earn his way onto the roster as a utility player and pinch runner, possibly opening the Tigers up to trade current utility infielder Ramon Santiago. Lobstein, on the other hand, will have to beat out relievers such as Darin Downs, Duane Below, Matt Hoffman, and potential relievers Casey Crosby and Adam Wilk for a spot.

While the Tigers added two players, they were forced to give up one – Justin Henry – to obtain Lobstein. The 27-year old Henry was a 9th round pick of the Tigers in 2007 who has spent time at Triple-A each of the last three seasons. Henry personifies the term utility player, having seen action at second base, third base and all three outfield spots in 2012 alone.

Henry has limited big league ability, but his versatility combined with some speed and a good approach at the plate could allow him to see the big leagues during a transition year for the Red Sox.

On the minor league side, the Tigers fortunes were reversed as they lost two players and gained just one. The St. Louis Cardinals selected Jay Voss from the Tigers while the Blue Jays plucked reliever Efrain Nieves.

Voss made just three starts in 2012 before he was forced under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Heading into the 2012 season Voss had shown some potential as a back of the rotation piece or lefty reliever. He will finish his rehab with the Cardinals and look to re-establish his prospect stock in 2013.

Nieves was recently re-signed by the Tigers as a minor league free agent. He pitched 42 innings for the Connecticut Tigers (Short-Season A) in 2012, compiling a 2.79 ERA with just 28 hits allowed. Nieves relies heavily on a good slider and a fastball that sits in the 84-86 mph range and touches 87.

Coming to the Tigers organization was speedy 23-year old outfielder Eliezer Mesa, from Oakland. Mesa moved from Low-A to Double-A throughout the course of 2012, amassing a .255/.281/.360 line across the three levels. Mesa's speed is his best tool with plus times to first base, and that speed plays up because of strong instincts. For the 2013 season, Mesa will likely head to High-A Lakeland.

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