- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MIAMI | Most people celebrate their 21st birthday at a local watering hole. Jeff Kobernus will spend his making his debut as a professional ballplayer.

Kobernus, the Washington Nationals’ second-round draft pick, signed with the club Monday and immediately boarded a plane to join the short-season Class A Vermont Lake Monsters. The former University of California second baseman is expected to make his debut Tuesday night against the Tri-City ValleyCats in Troy, N.Y.

“I’m pretty excited,” Kobernus said while boarding his flight. “I’m excited to get out here and get playing and start my pro career.”

Kobernus, the 50th overall pick earlier this month, joins reliever Drew Storen (10th) and right-hander Trevor Holder (81st) as high draft picks who already have signed.

For Kobernus - who agreed to a $705,500 signing bonus close to Major League Baseball’s recommended “slot” for his draft position - the decision to sign quickly was a no-brainer. The Nationals’ farm system isn’t loaded with second basemen, so he sees an opportunity to progress in short order.

“It’s definitely a motivation, knowing it’s wide open,” he said. “If I go out and do what I’m supposed to do, I’m going to have a chance to move up quickly.”

Regarded as one of the most versatile players in this year’s draft, Kobernus played center field as a freshman at Cal, then third base as a sophomore before settling in at second this year. He said he feels most comfortable in the middle of the infield.

Washington has signed 23 draft picks, including five of its first 10 players selected. The club has until Aug. 17 to sign all of its picks, most notably No. 1 selection Stephen Strasburg.

Zimmerman falls to third

With less than a week until the All-Star rosters are announced, Ryan Zimmerman is slipping in the race for a starting spot.

For the first time since ballot results were revealed a month ago, Zimmerman fell out of second place among National League third basemen. He now ranks third with 1,301,577 votes. David Wright (2,049,487) of the New York Mets is a shoo-in to win. The Atlanta Braves’ Chipper Jones (1,351,455) now ranks second.

The only other Nationals player listed among the leading vote-getters is Adam Dunn, who’s 12th among outfielders with 866,296 votes.

Minor league honors

Class AAA Syracuse right-hander Garrett Mock was named International League pitcher of the week after allowing just one run in two starts spanning 15 innings.

Mock, who has resurrected his career as a starter since his demotion from the Nationals’ bullpen last month, tossed a shutout June 22 against Columbus and followed it with six innings of one-run ball Sunday against Pawtucket. In six starts with Syracuse, he has a 2.16 ERA.

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