2016 looks like more of the same for Rob Refsnyder. After being assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, Refsnyder will once again be trying to hone his defensive skills at another new position.
Refsnyder of course caught New York Yankees fans and prospect junkies attention with a spectacular run with the Trenton Thunder in 2014. The 2012 fifth round draft pick hit seemingly everything thrown at him as he slashed .342/.385/.548 in 60 Double-A games, while striking out just 38 times in 244 at bats (16%). The quick stop with the Thunder earned him a promotion to Scranton-Wilkes Barre where he also performed very well.
The Yankees entered 2015 with names like Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan, Gregorio Petit and eventually Dustin Ackley as options at second base and many were wondering when Refsnyder would get his chance. While Refsnyder continued to hit well with the RailRiders last season, he continued to struggle in the field.
Refsnyder of course gained national attention winning the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series for the University of Arizona in 2012. He did it as a starting right fielder. A year later, the Yankees would draft Aaron Judge, and Refsnyder was quickly moved to second base.
His first season was expectedly nightmarish, as he made 25 errors, but it was a transition to unfamiliar territory, so a learning curve was expected. He showed great promise cutting the errors in half in 2014, but saw a spike back to 18 in 2015. As someone who watched him in person in both 2014 and 2015, I can honestly say I saw major improvement in his range to both sides.
Still very much a work in progress, Ref got a small cup of tea in the Bronx in 2015. He showed he could handle big league pitching, picking up 13 hits (including three doubles and two home runs) in 43 at bats. His defense was ok in a limited role, making only one error and turning seven double plays, but his range factor (3.40) was his lowest since he changed positions in 2013.
And then came Starlin Castro.
Seemingly all of the strides Refsnyder had made towards being the Yankees second baseman of the future were wiped away with the acquisition Castro who is only one year senior to Refsnyder, but comes with six years of big league experience.
Once again, they moved Refsnyder to unfamiliar territory. He started to get game action at third base, a position he had played a combined total of zero games in his professional baseball career. The results have become well documented. He took a ball off the face trying to field a ground ball forcing him out of the game… on two consecutive days.
The next day, his hopes to make the Opening Day roster were gone as the Yankees assigned him to Triple-A. The assumption is he will get his licks at third base, which makes sense with the lack of depth in the organization at the hot corner and the injury history of Chase Headley (as well as the fact that he hasn’t lived up to the contract he signed). Much like Gary Sanchez who appeared to be heading for an Opening Day roster spot but was re-assigned as well, the Yankees seemingly feel it’s better for Ref to get everyday action.
So, where does Refsnyder fit in to the Yankees future? It’s a very bizarre situation. On the one hand, Refsnyder is still young, and at age 25 still has plenty of time to learn new skills. On the other hand, it took him the better part of three years to become an average second baseman. What do the Yankees see in Refsnyder that have them believing that he can learn a traditionally more difficult infield position?
Refsnyder’s bat is definitely attractive and the more positions that he can learn to play, the more valuable he becomes. The Yankees have the middle of their infield locked up with youth in Castro, Didi Gregorius and Jorge Mateo on the pipeline. All of the Yankees Universe is awaiting the arrival of The Judge. If Refsnyder can’t convert to third, he may be looking at a new uniform come the trade deadline.