In December 2003, the Tigers brain trust took a shot on a slugging first baseman named Chris Shelton in the Rule 5 draft. It was a sensible selection, given that Shelton had some raw power — and the Tigers, coming off an American League-record 119-loss season, could afford, per Rule 5 rules, to keep the player on the 25-man roster the entire regular season, even though they knew he wasn't ready to be an everyday major leaguer. Two years later, in 2006, it paid dividends, as Shelton's red-hot start to the season helped kickstart the Tigers' stunning turnaround. Of course, a serious contender, or a team that's fresh off a World Series appearance like these Tigers, isn't nearly as likely to take a similar chance on a Rule 5'er. Typically, there's just no room, and no patience. So that's why it was a bit of a head-turner when this past December, the Red Sox plucked speedy infielder Jeff Kobernus from the Nationals, then quickly spun him to the Tigers. At the time, Kobernus appeared a long shot to make any serious impression on the Tigers before they realized he wasn't a realisticfit — and, thus, offered him back to the Nationals. But with less than a month until Opening Day, Kobernus is squarely in the mix to be a key piece to the Tigers' bench puzzle — for a number of reasons, chief among them the speed with which he stole 42 bases at Double A in 2012, and 53 at Single A in 2011. "We're basically trying to find out if he can hit left-handed pitching, play the outfield, play second, pinch-run — so he's a candidate," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We want to see what he's got." It's why Kobernus, 24, a second-round pick by the Nationals out of Cal-Berkley in 2009, is getting so many reps — 27 spring-training at-bats entering Thursday night's game against the Atlanta Braves at Disney World. From The Detroit News: