Refsnyder’s recent play should have Yankees considering a change at second base


For most of the offseason, it seemed like a matter of when, not if. Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder mashed at Double-A and Triple-A last summer, putting up a combined .318/.387/.497 (146 wRC+) batting line, and when you do that at the upper levels of the minors, you put yourself in position for a big league call-up. That performance all but assured we would see Refsnyder at some point in 2015.

The Yankees opted to re-sign Stephen Drew to a cheap one-year contract in January, which meant Refsnyder was going to head back to Triple-A to open the season. That was perfectly fine in my opinion. I am not a fan of handing jobs to non-elite prospects out of Spring Training and acquiring defensively capable middle infield depth is never a bad move. There were also some reasons to think Drew could bounce back from his dreadful 2014 campaign.

Instead, Drew has continued to be pretty terrible at the plate this year. His defense at second has been great considering his relative inexperience, but he’s hitting .182/.263/.339 (65 wRC+) through 138 plate appearances this season after hitting .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) in 300 plate appearances last season. We’re talking about a guy with a .168/.244/.311 (51 wRC+) batting line in his 438 last plate appearances. That’s really bad! Those are the kind of numbers that are supposed to send a team scrambling to find a replacement.

Refsnyder, meanwhile, shook off a slow start at Triple-A last month and is now hitting .312/.378/.440 (143 wRC+) on the season with a .304/.385/.451 (139 wRC+) in 490 career Triple-A plate appearances. He’s currently riding a 21-game on-base streak, during which he’s gone 33-for-84 (.393) with ten doubles, eleven walks, and 14 strikeouts. Refsnyder got off to a slow start with Double-A Trenton last year, then a few weeks into the season it clicked and he raked the rest of the way. Maybe he’s just a slow starter, like Mark Teixeira for much of his career.

Of course, Refsnyder’s issue isn’t his bat, it’s his defense at second, and we got a firsthand look at just how shaky he is in the field in Spring Training. The 24-year-old made six errors in only 92 defensive innings during Grapefruit League play, then made seven errors in his first 14 games with the RailRiders. He’s currently at nine errors in 33 Triple-A games at second base this year after making 12 errors in 122 games last year.

“It was awful,” said Refsnyder to Brendan Kuty earlier this week while discussing his error-laden spring. “In Spring Training, I was honestly trying to be perfect. I was trying to do everything correctly and right and it just wasn’t working. I was making error after error.”

Errors are far from the best way to evaluate defense, but in this case the error total matches Refsnyder’s defensive reputation. He’s a recently converted outfielder — this is only his third full season at second base — who has generated questions about, well, everything. His footwork, his ability to turn the double play, all of it. Second base is a really tough position. Drew taking to it as quickly as he did definitely isn’t the norm.

Refsnyder’s defense has settled down in recent weeks — “If I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to make them the way I want to play the game, and I’m trying to play the position as aggressively as possible to be honest,” he said to Kuty — but his glove probably won’t ever be an asset. He’s a bat first prospect and the offensive numbers are there. They aren’t for Drew. Not at all. They’re polar opposites — one is a no-hit/all-glove guy and the other is all-hit/no-glove.

I was totally cool with the Yankees bringing Drew back and giving him a chance to show he could get back to being a productive player with a regular Spring Training. It was a popular excuse but it seemed totally plausible to me. Drew hasn’t hit though. The regular Spring Training didn’t help and there’s basically no indication a turn around is coming. The exit velocity excuse doesn’t even apply — Drew ranked 278th out of 309 players (min. 50 AB) in exit velocity prior to last night’s game.

At this point the Yankees should strongly consider calling Refsnyder up to play second base. That doesn’t mean Drew has to go away forever, he would have value as a utility infielder, but he hasn’t looked like a Major League hitter for quite a while now and those guys should be replaced. That’s how baseball works. Refsnyder might not hit either! That’s the risk with young players. They’re unpredictable. We know with some degree of certainty Drew won’t hit though and at some point the Yankees have to try something different.

When I wrote about Drew’s leash earlier this month, I figured he would get most of the summer to turn things around, perhaps until the All-Star break. I still think that’s the case, but I don’t think it should be. The Yankees have a ready made second baseman in Triple-A who may cost them runs in the field, but could create lots more at the plate. Starting Refsnyder in Triple-A made sense. Keeping him in Triple-A with Drew performing like this and offense scuffling doesn’t.

Yankeemetrics: May 19-20 (Nationals)

It's not what you want. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images )
It’s not what you want. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images )

The end of perfection
We knew it had to happen some time, right? Andrew Miller finally succumbed to the regression gods and gave up his first runs of the season – and unfortunately it came at a very ill-timed moment for the Yankees.

Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 10th inning, Ryan Zimmerman smoked a 96-mph fastball from Miller off the right field foul pole to cap a Nationals’ comeback after trailing 6-2 in the fifth inning. Not only was it the Yankees largest blown lead of the season, it was also the Yankees first walk-off loss of the season and the first time Miller had surrendered an extra-inning homer in his career.

However, these dramatics were nothing new for Zimmerman. It was the second time he had hit a walk-off homer against the Yankees, with other coming on June 18, 2006 at RFK Stadium. Strange-but-true fact: since his debut in 2005, Zimmerman is the only player with two walk-off shots vs. the Yankees … and this is a guy, remember, that has played his entire career in the National League.

Zimmerman also joined a rare club with that decisive swing of the bat, as one of just three first baseman to hit a two-out, walk-off homer in extra innings against the Yankees over the last 75 seasons. The others were Bob Allison in 1960 and Mike Napoli in 2013. Go figure.

Before Miller’s streak came to an end, Dellin Betances pitched two scoreless innings to ensure that we’d get free baseball on Tuesday night. It was his 20th appearance of the season and the 20th time he gave up zero earned runs, establishing a new franchise record for consecutive games to begin a season without allowing an earned run. The previous record of 19 was set by Lee Guetterman in 1989.

National crisis?
As bad as last year’s team was, it never lost seven times in an eight-game span. With the Yankees 3-2 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday, the 2015 team has now already done that, and it’s not even the end of May.

Justin Wilson allowed the game-winning run when Denard Span hit an RBI single in the seventh inning, scoring Wilson Ramos. How unlikely was that hit? Before that at-bat, Span was 0-for-7 against left-handed relievers this season (and 2-for-21 vs. all lefties); Wilson had faced 21 left-handed batters this season prior to Span, and had given up a hit to only two of them.

A-Rod pinch-hit in the top of the ninth inning and struck out looking for the final out with Didi Gregorius on first base. If that sounds familiar … well, not really. The last Yankee pinch-hitter to take a called strike three to end the game with a man on base and the team trailing by a run was Chili Davis against the White Sox on May 22, 1999. Brutal.

Let’s end on a positive note, and celebrate the debut of Slade Heathcott, who pinch ran for Mark Teixeira in the eight inning. Another (maybe not) hard-to-believe fact: he is the first player position player picked in the first round by the Yankees to play for the team in a non-September game since Derek Jeter made his debut in May 1995.

Scouting The Trade Market: Oakland Athletics

T-Clip. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
T-Clip. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

For the first time in the Billy Beane era, the Athletics are a truly awful team. They come into today with baseball’s worst record at 14-28 — they’ve never lost more than 88 under games under Beane and only six times have they lost more than 80 games since the took over as GM in 1998 — thanks in part to a dreadful 2-13 record in one-run games. Their bullpen has blown many leads so far this year and it’s sabotaged their season.

Depending on who you ask, Beane and the A’s may or may not be willing to trading away players soon. Joel Sherman says it could happen while Ken Rosenthal says not so fast. Given Beane’s history of being ultra-aggressive, my guess is he would start trading away players today if someone makes a good offer. The real question is whether other teams are willing to act without first giving their internal options a try.

Brian Cashman and Beane are reportedly close friends, but they don’t get together for trades very often. Just three in fact, with one being last summer’s Jeff Francis for cash swap. That doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to make trades with each other, of course. The A’s have some useful players they figure to market should they continue to fall out of the race, and a few of them are impending free agents who could help the Yankees down the stretch. Let’s look.

RHP Tyler Clippard

It’s kinda weird to think about the Yankees trading for a reliever, but Clippard is no ordinary reliever, he’s a workhorse late-innings guy any team would love to add to their staff. The 30-year-old righty has a 2.50 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 18 innings this season with some major decline in his underlying performance. Check it out:

K% BB% GB% IFFB% Soft% 1st Pitch Strike% FB velo
2012-14 27.8% 8.8% 31.4% 17.7% 20.5% 61.9% 92.2
2015 20.3% 10.8% 19.6% 12.1% 13.7% 58.1% 91.2

Clippard has always been very unique. In addition to striking batters out he has been an extreme pop-up pitcher, getting lots of soft contact in the air that results in easy outs. That 17.7% infield fly ball rate was easily the highest in MLB from 2012-14. (Kelvin Herrera was second at 14.9%). Clippard’s .228 BABIP in over 200 innings from 2012-14 is no fluke. It’s a direct result of all those pop-ups.

For whatever reason, Clippard is getting fewer pop-ups this season, and the combination of an ultra-low ground ball rate and lower than usual pop-up and soft contact rates indicate he’s giving up more scary fly balls. He’s also behind in the count more often based on his first pitch strike percentage. Between that and the mile an hour that’s gone missing from his fastball, it somewhat explains why his peripherals took a step back. Clippard’s had to come in the zone in hitter’s counts more often.

The question is whether this is a blip or a permanent thing. Clippard’s thrown a ton of high-pressure innings over the years — he leads all relievers in innings (411.1) and ranks 20th in leverage index (1.50) since 2010, so he’s pitched in a lot of stressful situations. The workload could finally be catching up to him now. Relievers are weird like that. They just start to go south without warning.

Clippard is owed $8.3M this year, so he’s not cheap, and he will become a free agent after the season. Beane could say he is willing to make Clippard the qualifying offer and thus wants something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in return, which is believable. Even if this diminished state is not a fluke, Clippard could still help the Yankees’ bullpen, which lacks a third option behind Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

Kazmir. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Kazmir. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

LHP Scott Kazmir

It really feels like a matter of when Kazmir will get traded, not if. He’s another impending free agent — he’s owed $11M in 2015 and seems like a great qualifying offer candidate to me — and Kazmir should have big value now that he’s shown his success is no fluke following his improbable comeback. Remember, he was out of baseball entirely in 2012 due to arm problems.

Kazmir, 31, has a 3.08 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 49.2 innings this season while his peripheral stats are sorta all over the place. Some are trending in the right direction, some aren’t. Here’s the important stuff:

K% BB% GB% Soft% Hard% FB velo Whiff%
2013 24.1% 7.0% 40.9% 16.5% 32.8% 92.3 10.2%
2014 21.1% 6.4% 43.8% 15.6% 25.2% 90.9 9.4%
2015 23.7% 9.2% 45.5% 14.6% 23.4% 91.6 11.3%

The strikeout and swing-and-miss rates have held fairly steady yet Kazmir’s ground ball, soft contact, and hard contact rates keep getting better. Obviously it’s still early and this could (and probably will) even out as the season progresses, but teams won’t get a chance to see that before making a trade. That’s a risky thing about midseason trades — some percentage of the decision will be based on sample size performance.

Kazmir doesn’t have the wipeout slider he once did, injuries took that away, but he’s a more complete pitcher now, using two-seamers and changeups to keep hitters off balance rather than overpower them. The Scott Kazmir we watched shove all those years with the Devil Rays is long gone. He’s a much different pitcher now yet just as successful. His injury history is worrisome but the whole impending free agency thing removes long-term risk.

I get the sense Kazmir is going to be an extremely hot commodity at the trade deadline. He’s effective, doesn’t come with a big contract like Cole Hamels, and probably won’t require as big a prospect package as Johnny Cueto. Surely some of his success is Coliseum aided — that’s a great place to pitch, fly balls go there to die — but not all of it. Kazmir’s a quality pitcher who would give the Yankees a big boost the same way he would most other teams.

UTIL Ben Zobrist

Zobrist. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Zobrist. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Zobrist was a really good player who was never quite as good as WAR made it seem — his ability to play just about every position, while valuable, screwed up the defensive metrics. Between his offense and his admittedly above-average defense, I think he was more of a 3-4 WAR player than a 5-6 WAR player like the numbers say, but that’s just me.

Anyway, Zobrist turns 34 next week and his age is starting to show up in his offense, particularly his power. He went from 40 homers and a .202 ISO from 2011-12 to 22 homers and a .125 ISO from 2013-14. Poof. Power’s gone just like that. Luckily, Zobrist is still a high-contact hitter who draws walks — about as many as he strikes out, in fact — so he still mustered a .273 AVG and a .354 OBP from 2013-14.

So far this year Zobrist is hitting .240/.304/.400 (93 wRC+) with the Athletics, but that’s only in 56 plate appearances. He jammed his knee sliding into a base in late-April and had to have it scoped. He’s expected back in a week or two. I imagine Beane and the A’s will showcase Zobrist for a few weeks to prove he’s healthy before moving him in a trade, where he figures to be in demand given his on-base ability, switch-hitter-ness, and versatility.

Unless they unexpectedly give up on Didi Gregorius, the only position where the Yankees could make an upgrade is second base, the position Zobrist has played more than any other in his MLB career. Even if he’s not as good as WAR says, Zobrist would be a huge upgrade on Stephen Drew at the plate and maybe even an upgrade in the field, but the first part is the most important. That’s even factoring in his disappearing power. The ability to hit for average and draw walks would be welcome.

* * *

The Yankees seem to prefer rentals for in-season trades, so the A’s are a natural trade partner. It’s very tough to get an idea of what it would cost to acquire Clippard, Kazmir, or Zobrist because Beane is so unpredictable though. This past offseason he went quantity over quality in the Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija trades, targeting specific players to fill specific needs. Beane did the same when he traded Dan Haren and Gio Gonzalez as well. Every once in a while he’ll go for the big prospect (Trevor Cahill for Jarrod Parker) but not often.

Out of these three players, I’d say the Yankees would benefit most from Zobrist, then Kazmir, then Clippard. Clippard was one of the worst trades of the Cashman era but I don’t think acquiring him now makes it any better. Bullpen help is toward the bottom of the shopping list give the team’s internal options. Zobrist would be a clear upgrade at second base and Kazmir would help the rotation. I think the Yankees will wait to see how Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova return from injuries before pulling the trigger on a trade for a starter though.

Yankees can’t protect another lead, fall 3-2 to Nationals

The nightmare road trip is finally over. The Yankees lost 3-2 to the Nationals on Wednesday night, getting swept in the little two-game series, and losing for the seventh time in their last eight games. They went 2-7 on the nine-game road trip and I’m surprised it went that well. It’s been ugly.

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Five Outs
The Yankees gave the Nationals five outs in the seventh inning and it cost them the game. It all started with a ground ball Chase Headley muffed for an error, putting the leadoff man on base. Headley’s uncharacteristically shaky defense continues. Adam Warren walked the next batter, then Headley kinda sorta toned for the error with a spectacular diving catch of Danny Espinosa’s bunt attempt in foul territory. He was charging in, had to change directions, then made the play.

The next defensive miscue isn’t going to show up in the box score. Pinch-hitter Dan Uggla, winner of this year’s “huh, he’s still playing?” award, popped up in foul territory and Carlos Beltran was inexplicably unable to run it down. The ball hung up in the air for quite a while and landed a few feet in front of Beltran, who alligator armed it. It was awful. That ball was in the air way, way too long to not be caught. Beltran’s defense has been a disaster for years but that’s no excuse. Awful, awful non-play. The kind of non-play that gets a rookie benched.

Anyway, of course the two defensive miscues came back to bite the Yankees. Warren walked Uggla to load the bases and Justin Wilson gave up a dinky little Denard Span ground ball single through the left side to score the run. It was just out of the reach of the diving Didi Gregorius, but it wouldn’t have mattered, run was scoring anyway. I was actually surprised just the one run scored. Could have been two. Wilson rebounded to escape the inning with a strikeout and a ground ball after the damage had been done.


Two Runs, No More Runs
The Yankees reverted back to the offensive plan that didn’t work in Tampa Bay last week: they scored two runs in the first inning and none after that. Brett Gardner led the game off with a bloop single to right, then scored all the way from first on Beltran’s double. It was a Span-aided double — he seemed to take a weird route and it scooted by him. Brian McCann drove in Beltran with a sac fly later in the inning.

And that was it. No more offense. The Yankees scattered seven base-runners after the first inning and none of them made it as far as third base. Their best chances to score came with two runners on and two outs in the sixth (McCann walk, Headley single) and eighth (Teixeira and McCann walks), but they couldn’t capitalize. Stephen Drew struck out to end the sixth and Headley grounded out to end the eighth. They scored just enough runs to lose.

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Warren gave up two solo homers (Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore) and was really shaky in the first — only ten of 27 pitches were strikes! — but settled down. He retired 15 of 18 batters faced from the second through sixth innings and completed six innings for the second time this year (and the second time in as many starts). The final line is 6.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K on 98 pitches and 57 strikes. Serviceable.

Bryce Harper was ejected in the third inning for, well, a lot of reasons. He didn’t like a strike call, stepped way out of the box, was slow to get back in when the ump told him to get a move on, and then started mouthing off. I know umpires don’t have to take that kind of abuse, but they’re not supposed to escalate the situation either, which I felt Marvin Hudson did by yapping back at Harper. The Yankees caught a break because no Harper, but it didn’t matter.

Gregorius had two hits and hit another ball to the warning track, which in all seriousness might have been the hardest ball he’s hit all season. McCann bunted to beat the shift and drew two walks. Teixeira had the other walk and Headley, Beltran, and Gardner had the other hits. Esmil Rogers took his sweet time in tossing a scoreless eighth.

And finally, I have no idea why Joe Girardi didn’t pinch-hit Alex Rodriguez for Gregorius with two outs in the ninth. It didn’t matter — Gregorius singled and A-Rod struck out to end the game — but don’t you want make sure Rodriguez bats there? You can’t lose a one-run game with A-Rod standing on deck. Geez. Stupid NL.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, as well as the updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. YES just used their tenth different booth combination in the team’s 13th series of the year. Here’s the loss probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees have an off-day Thursday — at this point I think fans need an off-day from the Yankees! — and are finally heading home. They played 15 of their last 19 and 25 of their last 35 games on the road. A six-game homestand begins with a three-game weekend series against the Rangers. Michael Pineda and Colby Lewis is the scheduled pitching matchup for Friday night. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or any other game on the homestand in person.

DotF: Judge and Jagielo return in Trenton’s loss

RHP Rookie Davis has been placed on the High-A Tampa DL, according to Nicholas Flammia. No idea what’s wrong with him. Davis has a 4.01 ERA (2.08 FIP) in seven starts and 33.2 innings for Tampa this year.

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 loss to Charlotte)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB — hitting .336/.378/.496  in 34 games as an outfield rover but now figures to play center regularly with Slade Heathcott in MLB
  • LF Ramon Flores: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 SB
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-4, 3 K — having a real tough year so far
  • C Austin Romine: 0-4
  • RHP Jaron Long: 7 IP, 10 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 10/5 GB/FB — 60 of 93 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, zeroes, 2/1 GB/FB — seven of eleven pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 41: Slade’s Debut


This day has been a long-time coming. The Yankees selected Slade Heathcott out of a Texas high school with the 29th pick in the 2009 draft — the compensation pick they received for failing to sign Gerrit Cole in 2008 — and tonight he can finally say he’s a big leaguer. To say the road from Texarkana to the Bronx was rocky would be a massive understatement.

Heathcott, now 24, had a turbulent upbringing and hit rock bottom soon after being drafted, when he battled alcoholism and even missed a flight to Instructional League because he’d been out drinking. The Yankees sent Heathcott to Alcoholics Anonymous in April 2010, and while that helped him deal with his substance abuse issues, Slade’s body started to betray him. Multiple knee and shoulder surgeries limited Heathcott to 306 minor league games from 2010-14. He played nine last year due to knee problems.

Now, after being non-tendered in the offseason and returning to the organization on a minor league contract, Heathcott is with the Yankees, having impressed in Spring Training and again during his stint with Triple-A Scranton. It has been almost six years since the Yankees drafted Heathcott, and during those six years he went from multimillionaire first round pick to an underdog. Tonight, all the hard work finally pays off. He’s in the show. Give ’em hell, Slade.

Here is the Nationals lineup — Jordan Zimmermann is starting for Washington, not A.J. Cole, so boo to that — and here is the Yankees lineup. Heathcott is on the bench for his first game:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Carlos Beltran
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 2B Stephen Drew
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RHP Adam Warren

It’s cloudy and cool in Washington, so not perfect weather, but there won’t be any rain. That’s coming tomorrow. The Yankees are getting out of town just in time. Tonight’s game will start a bit after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Moves: As expected, Chase Whitley (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Heathcott, the Yankees announced. The team still has another 60-day DL candidate in Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) should they need another 40-man spot.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) said the injury is to the outside of his knee and he is wearing a brace. He’ll see the team doctor on Friday and they won’t know his timetable until then. For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi said the injury is “not something that requires surgery” … Ivan Nova (elbow) threw four innings and 42 pitches in an Extended Spring Training game on Monday. He’ll make another ExST start on Saturday and could begin an official 30-day minor league rehab stint after that … Ryan has resumed baseball activities in Tampa.

2015 Draft: Chris Betts

Chris Betts | C

The 18-year-old Betts attends Wilson High School in Long Beach, which has long been a baseball hotbed, producing 14 big leaguers including one Hall of Famer (Bob Lemon) and one borderline Hall of Famer (Bobby Grich). Betts has consistently excelled against top prep competition on the showcase circuit. He’s committed to Tennessee.

Scouting Report
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 lbs., Betts is a bat-first catcher with a ton of left-handed power, arguably the most in the draft. Certainly the most among high schoolers. His setup at the plate is a little unorthodox — he brings his back elbow up pretty high before swinging — but the bat speed and plate coverage are there. Betts knows the strike zone and is an all-around solid hitter. His defense behind the plate lags but isn’t disastrous. His arm is above-average and he moves around well behind the plate. Betts is not a lock to stick at catcher long-term but it’s not out of the question either. He has some tools and needs reps more than anything. If he has to move to first, the bat will play.

Keith Law (subs. req’d),, and Baseball America ranked Betts as the 21st, 21st, and 28th best prospect in the draft class in their most recent rankings, respectively. Baseball America said the Yankees were in on Betts in their latest mock draft, for what it’s worth. The Yankees like to hoard catchers as much as any team and they also have a thing for lefty power hitters, so Betts is right in their wheelhouse. They select 16th and 30th this year, and since Betts is one of the two or three best catcher prospects in the draft class, they’d probably have to grab him 16th. Catchers who look like they will hit are hot commodities come draft day.