The Present and Future of Rob Refsnyder

The Yankees boasted one of the best offenses in baseball in the season’s first half. Heading into the All-Star break, the team ranks third in the American League wRC+ and second in runs scored. But very little of this run scoring has come from the second base position, where the team has mustered only a 64 wRC+. Stephen Drew, with his 229 plate appearances of 69 wRC+, has been the primary culprit.

The Yankees second base situation just got a bit better, however. Or at least it did on the offensive side of things. The team called up rookie second baseman Rob Refsnyder on Saturday. The Bombers faced off against two left-handed pitchers over the weekend, making it an ideal time to break in their right-handed rookie second baseman. Refsnyder accumulated two hits in his first two games, including a towering home run off of Alexi Ogando yesterday.

RefHR

A glance at Refsnyder’s minor league numbers makes it pretty obvious that his bat is just about big league ready. He posted a 146 wRC+ between Double-A and Triple-A last year, had a dominant spring training and followed it up by hitting .290/.387/.413 (136 wRC+) through this season’s first three months. The projection systems — ZiPS and Steamer — feel he could be nearly a league-average hitter right now, which would be no small feat coming from a second baseman.

Refsnyder’s biggest offensive asset is his ability to control the strike zone. He walked and struck out an equal amount — 12% — in Triple-A Scranton this year, and has posted better-than-average strikeout and walk numbers throughout his pro career. He compliments these plus strikeout and walk numbers with modest power and speed, making or a solid overall offensive package.

Although he didn’t get much run in prospect circles until the last year or so, Refsnyder’s been putting up impressive numbers for some time now. Before the Yankees took him in the fifth round back in 2012, he hit .364/.453/.562 in his junior year at the University of Arizona, giving him the second highest OPS in the Pac-12. He was also named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player. Refsnyder’s offensive successes aren’t anything new.

Based on his 2015 numbers, KATOH thinks Refsnyder has a decent big league career ahead of him. My system pegs him for 3.3 WAR through age-28, which would have put him 145th overall on KATOH’s preseason list. This is a couple notches lower than his preseason projection of 5.0 WAR, which was based on his 2014 stats. The drop-off is the result of his numbers coming back to earth following his .342/.385/.548 showing in Double-A in last season’s first half.

Let’s pull up some comps. Using league-adjusted, regressed stats, along with age, I calculated the Mahalanobis Distance between Refsnyder’s performance and every Triple-A season since 1990 in which a batter recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Refsnyder’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Rank Mah Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 0.37 Callix Crabbe 39 0.0
2 0.57 Chris Clapinski 121 0.3
3 0.74 Johnny Giavotella* 770 0.0
4 0.89 Rob Ryan 70 0.0
5 0.89 Alex Arias 1,013 2.0
6 0.90 Felipe Crespo 523 0.1
7 0.94 Brad Nelson 31 0.0
8 0.94 Jon Saffer 0 0.0
9 0.96 Joe Hall 31 0.4
10 1.02 Yamaico Navarro* 199 0.0
11 1.06 Marco Scutaro 606 0.0
12 1.10 Bill Masse 0 0.0
13 1.13 Tony Medrano 0 0.0
14 1.14 Matt Watson 75 0.0
15 1.15 Chris Carter 206 0.0
16 1.16 Paul Lo Duca 199 0.6
17 1.21 Alejandro Machado 6 0.1
18 1.23 F.P. Santangelo 580 4.4
19 1.25 Cord Phelps* 126 0.0
20 1.37 Chris Getz 1,309 1.6

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

And here’s a list containing only players who were primarily middle infielders in Triple-A.

Rank Mah Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 0.37 Callix Crabbe 39 0.0
2 0.57 Chris Clapinski 121 0.3
3 0.74 Johnny Giavotella* 770 0.0
4 0.89 Alex Arias 1,013 2.0
5 0.90 Felipe Crespo 523 0.1
6 1.02 Yamaico Navarro* 199 0.0
7 1.06 Marco Scutaro 606 0.0
8 1.13 Tony Medrano 0 0.0
9 1.21 Alejandro Machado 6 0.1
10 1.23 F.P. Santangelo 580 4.4
11 1.25 Cord Phelps* 126 0.0
12 1.37 Chris Getz 1,309 1.6
13 1.38 Brent Abernathy 955 0.0
14 1.41 Greg Garcia* 31 0.2
15 1.49 Chad Meyers 237 0.0
16 1.53 Eric Sogard 930 1.6

*Batters who have yet to play their age-28 season.

Quite frankly, that’s a pretty underwhelming collection of players. Guys like Crabbe, Clapinski and Giavotella performed very similarly to Refsnyder in the minors, but all failed to carry their success over into the big leagues; although Giavotella seems to finally be finally figuring things out in his age-27 season. Further down, we find a couple of moderately successful players in Alex Arias and F.P. Santangelo. Both hung around the league for a while, but were never quite good enough to be everyday players. Marco Scutaro, who had a solid career, but didn’t get the chance to start until his late 20’s, also shows up.

For obvious reasons, the lack of success stories among Refsnyder’s comps is concerning. But keep in mind that this is just a small selection of players who happened to perform similarly to Refsnyder in Triple-A. Refsnyder’s KATOH forecast, which is based on the fortunes of all Triple-A players rather than just a few, is likely the more telling analysis. And KATOH is relatively bullish on the 24-year-old’s future.

Refsnyder’s bat is interesting, especially coming from a second baseman. But his defense at second is still thought to be a bit shaky. As a converted outfielder, he’s still learning the intricacies of playing second base. He showed his inexperience at the position when he missed a throw from Andrew Miller in the ninth inning of yesterday’s game. His defense is the primary reason why he’s stayed in the minors up until now, while the Yankees have trotted out the likes of Brian Roberts, Stephen Drew, Jose Pirela, and Gregorio Petit at second the last couple of years.

In fairness to Refsnyder, his defense has gotten substantially better since he converted to the infield in 2013. As an A-baller in 2013, he had a fielding percentage of just .943, but has posted marks of .977 and .966 last year and this year, respectively. Baseball Prospectus’ minor league FRAA numbers tell a similar story. By this data, Refsnyder went from being a very poor defender in A-Ball in 2013 to an above-average one in Triple-A this year. As is always the case with defensive metrics, small sample caveats apply, but that’s still quite the improvement.

RefsnyderD

 

Plus, while his 13 errors in 73 Triple-A games this year are concerning, five of them took place in his first nine games. It appears as though he’s straightened things out a bit since then. No one would mistake Refsnyder for a good defender, but at the very least, his defense isn’t the train wreck it once was. Here are a couple of less-than-routine plays he made in his last week in the minors, captured in the low-definition.


Refsnyder1
 Refsnyder3

And here’s one he almost made. Although the throw didn’t quite get there in time, he showed decent range to even get the this ball.

Refsnyder2

Regardless of how Refsnyder ultimately develops with the glove, his bat makes him worthy of our attention. Unless he suddenly starts hitting for power, Refsnyder will probably never be a star. But even so, his performance in the high minors suggests he could hold his own at the plate in the majors. And given the low offensive bar for second basemen, Refsnyder stands a decent chance of hitting enough to be an everyday player.

As of this writing, Refsnyder’s immediate future in the Bronx isn’t immediately clear. The Yankees haven’t indicated wether he’ll remain with the team after the All-Star break, when Carlos Beltran and Brendan Ryan return from the disabled list. But given how well he’s performed of late, and the team’s lack of alternatives at the keystone, it’s clear that the best Yankees roster in 2015 has Refsnyder on it. He’s almost certainly a better hitter than Stephen Drew et al. And given his improvements on defense, he shouldn’t be much of a liability in the field, either.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Gosuke Katoh
6 years ago

Thanks to this guy, no room for me on the Yankees depth chart. 🙁