Rob Refsnyder and the future of second base



Robinson Cano returned to the Bronx as a visiting player for the first time Tuesday night. It was kinda weird. When he defected to the Mariners over the winter, it left the Yankees with a blank canvas at second base. I mean a really, really blank canvas. The team did not have a big league ready second base prospect to step into the lineup, hence the Brian Roberts, Scott Sizemore, and Dean Anna pickups. Those guys are the definition of stopgaps. They were added to play second base because the rules say someone has to do it.

True second base prospects are not all that common — most big league second basemen are failed shortstops. Cano is a failed shortstop, as are Roberts and Dustin Pedroia and Aaron Hill and pretty much every other second baseman. It’s the least-premium premium position, if that makes sense. The Yankees came into the season with two good but not great second base prospects, with the most notable being Gosuke Katoh following his huge pro debut last summer. This year has not been so kind to him, however.

The other good second base prospect is 23-year-old Rob Refsnyder, the team’s fifth round pick in 2012. I ranked him as their 27th best prospect back in February after he hit .293/.413/.413 (~143 wRC+) with 32 doubles, 23 steals, and more walks (84) than strikeouts (82) in 573 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last season. Refsnyder got off to a brutally slow start at Double-A Trenton this year (5-for-35 with 15 strikeouts), but he has gone 18-for-51 (.353) with seven walks and five strikeouts in 14 games since. His season batting line now sits at .267/.344/.384 (109 wRC+), and, according to Baseball Reference, he is 1.6 years younger than the average Double-A player.

Refsnyder’s backstory alone makes him pretty interesting. He was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Orange County when he was only three months old. He played second base in high school, moved to the outfield at the University of Arizona, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series en route to helping the Wildcats win the 2012 National Championship. Pretty neat. Baseball America ranked Refsnyder as the 29th best prospect in New York’s system in their 2014 Prospect Handbook, and here is a snippet of their scouting report:

Refsnyder has enough athleticism to become an average defender at the position in time, but he needs plenty of repetitions. He’s a smart, above-average runner, but not a burner … He’s an extremely patient hitter (who) recognizes spin well and knows when and how to go with a pitch. Refsnyder sprays line drives all over the field and has the ability to keep the head of the bat in the zone for a long time. He doesn’t get much lift, so he’s not going to hit more than 10-12 home runs going forth.

We aren’t talking about the next Cano here. Cano was a second year big leaguer when he was Refsnyder’s age, not a first year Double-A player. Refsnyder’s strengths are a potentially solid glove, his knowledge of the strike zone, his ability to differentiate pitches, and his ability drive the ball to all fields. Here is his 2013-14 spray chart, if you need a visual. (MLB Farm is a truly excellent site, by the way.) That is a pretty promising skillset even if it doesn’t make for the sexiest prospect ever.

Any time a player gets to the Double-A level and has success, especially a player drafted out of a major college program, he puts himself on the map for a potential big league role. Obviously the season is very young and Refsnyder still has another 120-something games left in his season, but I’m encouraged he shook off the really poor start and has started to hit like he did last year. The Double-A level has always been something of a separator between actual potential big leaguers and regular ol’ prospects. You know what I mean. Refsnyder is starting to separate himself a bit.

The perfect world scenario would see Refsnyder dominate Double-A these next few weeks, earn a midseason promotion, dominate Triple-A, and open 2015 as the team’s regular second baseman, but I don’t know how realistic that is. It’s a tad aggressive. The Cardinals had a top notch second base prospect in Kolten Wong ready to take over this year and they still added a veteran backup plan in Mark Ellis over the winter. (Wong hasn’t hit a lick and was just demoted to Triple-A, but that’s besides the point.) Copying the Cardinals is not a bad idea. Signing another stopgap veteran and letting Refsnyder force his way into the lineup seems like reasonable 2015 plan to me.

Thanks to that blank canvas Cano left behind, the Yankees have a very clear opening for Refsnyder in the near future. The potential is there for him to be a solid and cheap bottom of the lineup option, something others like David Adams and Corban Joseph failed to become for different reasons. I hesitate to use Brett Gardner as a comparison for Refsnyder because Gardner turned into one hell of a player, but the idea is similar. An unheralded mid-round pick who comes up through the system and develops into a strong complementary player. I’d take that from Refsnyder in a heartbeat, and he isn’t all that far away from entering the big league second base picture.

Categories : Minors


  1. lightSABR says:

    Do the rules actually say someone has to play second base? I thought you could have four outfielders if you wanted.

  2. Jorge Steinbrenner says:

    “Any time a player gets to the Double-A level and has success, especially a player drafted out of a major college program, he puts himself on the map for a potential big league role. ”

    Bingo. Mr. Refsnyder is now on the map. Really looking forward to seeing where this goes.

    • The Great Gonzo says:


      • lightSABR says:

        What I’m surprised about isn’t the optimism – which I mostly share, since the early-season baseball euphoria somehow hasn’t worn off yet – but that no umbrage was taken about Mike calling Sizemore a stopgap.

        Unless, of course, what Mike means by “stopgap” is “such an outstanding defender that he covers all the gaps,” in which case, carry on.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        Nah. The Polyanna’s the guy yelling “Refsnyder sucks! Cashman can’t go anything right!” in August because, in his head, Refsnyder was supposed to be in the majors by July.

      • Pineda Colada says:

        This polyanna guy must be a pretty good prospect because everyone is always talking about him. What position does polyanna play?

  3. ALZ says:

    Farm is looking really good this year. Refsnyder, Banuelos, and Flores could be part of the next real prospects that could have an impact on the ml team next year. Flores especially gets no love, he only a month older than Judge, and 2 from Jagielo and is carrying an 0.850 ops in AAA.

    • nycsportzfan says:

      I’ve said before, I think the Yankees Farm system ranks in the top 10-13 teams heading into 2015 seasons. A nice mix of everything in the Yanks system.

      I like the way Refsnyder plays by the way. Hes a easy guy to root for.

      • Preston says:

        We could easily be higher or lower depending on how the season plays out. But if a lot of the top prospects graduate and Sanchez stays hot at AA, he’s going to be a legit top 10-15 type prospect next season. Which obviously weighs heavily in the rankings. Judge and Jagielo could both be top 100 guys if they put up strong seasons. Heathcott and Bird could be when they get back and healthy too. Heck even the guys at Charleston like Torrens, Andujar and Avilino could put themselves on the prospect map with strong seasons. On the pitching side the cupboard looks a little more barren. But Severino seems like a lock to be a top 100 guy, at his age DePaula is probably going to have to show he can pitch at AA for him to be considered, Banuelos would probably make a list if he gets healthy and productive at AAA by the end of the season. Beyond that, a breakout from Bryan Mitchell is probably the only other shot at being a top prospect. But if only a fraction of these things happened and we had say 5 top 100 guys headlined by Sanchez, with the depth of our system I think we’d be closer to a top 5 system. Of course these rankings are fickle, and pretty meaningless, I’d rather rank 25th and actually turn some prospects into big leaguers than be ranked 5th just to say we’re ranked high.

  4. RM says:

    I am from the school that if you succeed in Double A you can go straight to the majors. I have seen about 5 of Refsnyder’s games in Trenton and it would not surprise me if he is call up later in the year. Really raw at second but can make it up with his athleticism. He sure can hit. The next couple of months will show us what kind of prospect he really is.

    • The Great Gonzo says:

      David Adams would like a word, as would about 1/2 of the guys who have “succeeded in AA” and are now working at Firestone or the Gap.

      • RM says:

        Totally agree on some level but have you seem some of these Triple A rosters. As someone who goes to many minor league games the talent is on the Double A level. Triple A is just for seasoning. I seem this trend over the years change.

        • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

          It CAN happen, but you’re overgeneralizing here. AAA is still a vital step for most prospects. Refsnyder seems like a nice little player, but there’s not much saying that he’s a level-skipping kind of prospect. As a matter of fact, the slow start in AA may absolutely be a sign of the opposite.

        • Preston says:

          Just because the AAA rosters are filled with guys who aren’t going to be career major leaguers, and aren’t hot prospects, doesn’t mean the level of competition isn’t better. Especially on the pitching side, Brian Gordon might not be as highly touted as a guy like Bryan Mitchell, because Mitchell is younger, has better stuff and might improve. But Gordon is the better pitcher right now. And AAA bullpens are full of guys that teams are stockpiling as possible big league options. Most other levels have bullpens stocked with MiLB filler.

        • Looser trader droids FotD™ says:

          Those AAA rosters you cite are usually stuffed to the gills with guys who *just* can’t quite stick in the bigs for any length of time. Showing you can compete against them is critical for most prospects including, methinks, Señor Refsnyder.

      • Preston says:

        The double AA to the majors bump should be reserved for very special prospects only. I’m a huge Refsnyder fan, but just he doesn’t fit that mold.

    • ALZ says:

      That works if you are an elite prospect. If you aren’t which is where Refsnyder is then AAA really does benefit you.

      • RM says:

        That is the point I am trying to make. Refsnyder does not have to be elite because of his position (2B) and the Yankees need at the position (2B). He needs to hold his own at Trenton and progress.

  5. lightSABR says:

    Wow – I clicked through to, and the site really is amazing. Cool info, good presentation.

    One odd thing about Refsnyder’s heat map: he hits to all three parts of the outfield, but mostly to the middle of right, the middle of center, and the middle of left. Much less to the gaps. I wonder why that is, and whether it can be fixed.

    • ALZ says:

      Don’t think this is terribly uncommon. Search some of the mlb players and you will see it showing up on many of the really good players. A good hit in the gaps typically is a double, players aren’t really hitting that many of those a year, most your hits end up right at fielders.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead says:

      If hits to the gap were more common, or an acquired skill, you’d see very different OF positioning, I think.

  6. The Great Gonzo says:

    Cue John Sterling Voice…

    You know the thing about this Refsnyder (pronouncing it Reef-snyder), he’s a basebawl playrrr…. He does the little things.

    In all seriousness, I am a of fan college players from big programs. There’s that little bit of extra polish on them.

  7. John C says:

    I still think Angelo Gumbs is our best 2nd base prospect. He’s been slowed by injuries the last couple of years but he’s off to a good start at Tampa. Has loads of potential but just needs to stay hea;thy

    • ALZ says:

      .281/.303/.333 is not a particularly good start.

      • Preston says:

        And that batting average is likely BABIP driven (.355). I’m not ready to give up on Gumbs because he’s still young. But as of right now he just doesn’t do enough things well enough to succeed. He really struggled in Tampa after the promotion, and now coming back he’s halved his already poor walk rate, struck out more, and hit for even less power.

        • ALZ says:

          He has the tools and age on his side, but I wouldn’t put him ahead of someone proving himself in AA, who is only 1 year older.

  8. Tanuki Tanaka says:

    Does he have real speed or is that SB number aided by teams giving horrible defenders one last try at catcher?

    Also, I think it would be wonderful if he became something like Frank Catalanotto who can field a lil bit too.

    • Preston says:

      From the BA quote “He’s a smart, above-average runner, but not a burner”.

    • ALZ says:

      He is a solid runner, but nowhere near the sb potential of Gardner or Ellsbury. He is probably a future 15-20 sb guy, someone that won’t steal every game, but just enough where you need to try and hold him on.

  9. Chris says:

    This is my favorite prospect! Was so excited when they drafted the guy. He is what our team has missed for years. Gardner is a very nice comparison, he had huge doubters coming up as well. But as with Gardner, Refsnyder can really hit in the true grinder sense. Both guys seem to struggle to start each level then make the adjustment and grind away. I love that and as a team that may struggle to replace the hr without losing top draft picks we need this type of compliment player. His glove and throwing are the worry but hoping the reps fix his weakness, maybe a great infield teacher could consult off and on and assist him! BRiNG on the REEF!

  10. Preston says:

    Refsnyder along with Bird were the bright spots of DOTF last season. It’s been fun to see him get hot the last few weeks. Here’s hoping he keeps it up all the way to Yankee Stadium.

  11. ald0 says:

    Is there 1 post on this damn site where Axisa DOESNT throw in a “I <3 the St. Louis Cardinals" comment?

    • Dalek Jeter says:

      Yeah, god I totally hate when a writer’s opinion is “we should try to do things like the best run organization in our sport.”

      • ald0 says:

        best run organization in baseball? Ok bud why dont you forward me the link to the page where MLB ranks the “best run organizations” from 1-30…Sure St. Louis has had plenty of success, but I’m not going to sit here dreaming about how I wished my organization operates as well as the cards…Or any other org for that matter.

        Smug Clown.

    • Preston says:

      I didn’t feel like checking older pages but the 8 previous posts on this page all don’t. The Cardinals are a well run organization, and they just had a hot prospect 2b flame out, it’s completely relevant.

      • Dalek Jeter says:

        Though Kotah flamed out though, I still agree with Mike that the Cards did the right thing: Brought in a good but not great veteran to challenge the prospect and make the prospect prove himself ready. Worst case scenario you send the prospect to the minors for more seasoning and you have a good player to play 2nd.

        • Dalek Jeter says:

          Though Kotah flamed out though….

          Welcome to the redundant department of redundancy where we handle all redundant matters of things that happen redundantly.

        • Preston says:

          That’s the point, a prospect should very rarely be handed a job. I’d take Kelly Johnson back in a second, and even if he wasn’t starting he’d probably get 350+ ABs backing up 2b, 3b, 1b and maybe even some OF.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Point taken, but I didn’t think this particular Cardinals allusion was particularly egregious. He even took the time to note that the Wong experiment didn’t work out so well for them.

  12. Dalek Jeter says:

    Man, if Refsy (You’re welcome Joe G) is in a position to force himself into the big leagues next season and we could hold onto a guy like Kelly Johnson to compete for his spot, then we can go hard after Hardy/Lowrie/Ramirez/Headley/Sandoval for the left side of the infield.

    • Slimmy Mick Slime Jerkface says:

      What about AROD?

      • Dalek Jeter says:

        I think he’s either going to be the regular DH or not with the team next year.

        • Jersey Joe says:

          Carlos Beltran will most likely be regular DH next year. Even if Soriano leaves, I think Beltran will be relegated to as little time in the field as possible.

        • ALZ says:

          Really don’t get why people think he will be cut so much. The money is spent, it makes tons of financial sense to bring him back. If he repeated last year he would currently be the 7th best hitter by wrc+. Take out Ichiro and Murphy (sss) and there is your #5 hitter. At least run him out there, is really no additional money. If he sucks, cut him. If he gets injured bad, insurance can cover some if he out for a long time. If he takes more drugs, yay more money off the books.

      • The Great Gonzo says:

        A Rod to teh rotation! Less stress on teh hips!

    • Yankee$ says:

      Snidey, not Refsy,,,sheesh.

  13. Jersey Joe says:

    Would like to see Refsnyder as a fixture in the lineup for years to come. The fact that he bats righty huge: he’ll be able to fit between (hopefully) Gardner and Ellsbury within the next five years.

  14. Jersey Joe says:

    While I was looking at Refsnyder and the Trenton Thunder, I noticed one guy who hasn’t really been talked about that much here: Segedin.

    I know he’s 25, but a .434 OBP, even in an SSS, is nothing to sneeze at. He’s put up good power numbers too. I’d like to see him called up to AAA soon, and maybe next year we could have a useful utility player on our hands.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Possible. Sure.

    • Preston says:

      Especially since he got off to a similarly hot start prior to the injuryHas anyone been to a game and seen his defense? He’s a bigger guy and he had two hip surgeries last year, he also had a pretty serious back issue in college. Wonder if he can still hack it at the hot corner. Doesn’t seem like he has enough power to survive as an MLB 1b.

  15. Yan Solo says:

    “It is high… it is far… it is gone! It’s Reefer Madness in Yankee Stadium as Refsnyder sends one over the wall in right field!!”
    (too bad the projections don’t predict too many home run calls for him…)

  16. Davidi says:

    Clarkin is heading up to Charleston!!! At least according to Kendall Coleman’s twitter account. ( teammate)

    • Preston says:

      That’s exciting. I’m going to stop there and catch a game on the way down to FL at the end of May. Hopefully him or Severino are pitching that day.

    • ALZ says:

      Bit surprising it is that high. He is a hs kid, same with Katoh only he had 200+ PA last year in the gcl. Even Jagielo had spend quite bit time in staten.

  17. Robert says:

    Saw Refsnyder play a few games at Trenton. I am still not convinced.Whatever happened to Angelo Gumbs as a prospect.Saw two Lakewood/Charleston games.
    If 2B are failed SS then Tyler Wade or Abiatal Avelino is the next potential home grown 2B.
    Both extremely impressive in the field and Wade did play 2B in that series

    • Preston says:

      Angelo Gumbs just isn’t very good right now. Refsnyder might not be sexy, or have the raw tools of a guy like Gumbs. But his production speaks for itself.

    • RetroRob says:

      That is true. I don’t think there is any reason they’ll have to move Avelino off SS, who is getting good reviews there. Not sure about Wade, but they seem to be sticking with Wade at SS for now.

  18. LarryM FL says:

    Reysynder sounds as if he has the makings to be a good player for the Yankees. I’m sure his fielding is just about big league ready but his ability to hit at AA and some AAA needs to seasoned with playing time. Patience is the key to bringing this young man to a successful training period and then to compete at a high level at the major league level.

    The season opener 2015 sounds a bit aggressive but I’m not watching him everyday. He has played at a major program in college and won the WS MVP in the playoffs so he’s tracking very positively.

    I can not hear his name being called from the bleacher creatures but I have hope he can complete his journey to the big league.

  19. While I appreciate the outlook on a lesser known prospect Mike, but you have just created the next “completely over-hyped player in the RAB comments section because Mike Axisa wrote an article and likes him guy” Past winners of this dubious award are: John Danks and Mark Montgomery. Remember, Mike, with great power comes great responsibility.

    • Preston says:

      Every prospect that we talk about is over-hyped, because very few become even a fraction of what scouts believed they could be. It’s the nature of the beast.

  20. The Other Matt says:

    Thank you Mike! I have been a fan of Refsnyder since the Yankees drafted him and I remembered he was the kid who was playing for Arizona during my short time watching the CWS in 2012. With that being said, he really jumped out at me last season when checking the DotF daily he always seemed to do something. Whether it was a few hits, a walk, or a stolen base, he seemed to do something positive each game. Since the off-season I’ve been looking forward to see the season that he’ll put together this year, with the hope that he could play well enough to put him in the discussion for the 2B job come 2015. I was happy to see him briefly in a few ST games in mid-March on the YES Network, as it was the first time I had seen him since the CWS 2012 (and honestly the first time I got to really pay attention to him as a player, now that he is in the system).

    Hopefully he can continue to swing the bat well, paired with his patience at the plate, and continually improve defensively. He had a three error game recently, but after beginning last season with 20+ errors he only had two in the last couple months of the season, so that shows at least a bit of improvement. I’m optimistic that he’ll have another good season this year and really force the hand of the organization to give him a look in spring training next season.

    The fan base I think (I know I am) is really hungry for another homegrown position player. It has been nice to see Brett Gardner develop into a solid player and be rewarded for it with a contact extension, but with Jeter retiring and Cano having left there is a want, and perhaps need, for another homegrown talent to breathe a breath of fresh air to the club. Not to say that Refsnyder will become Jeter or Cano, (though it would be nice) but if he can come up next season and exhibit some of the tools that he is reported to have it would be an enjoyable sight to see.

    PS Did I mention that to go along with playing second base Refsnyder wears 24?

  21. Yankee$ says:

    I endorse this blogpost.

  22. RetroRob says:

    Cano was once a butcher at second. Refsnyder can learn it, but hopefully not on the MLB level.

    Hmmm, I wonder if A-Rod can still play short? They’ll be an opening next year. (And, yes, I’m kidding…I think.)

  23. Steve (different one) says:

    Refsnyder’s offensive profile sounds like ….Brian Roberts. Not the current version. Minus the switch hitting. And probably less defense.

    I would take that.

  24. Preston says:

    And Rob Refsnyder leads off today’s game with a 2 RBI double.

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