The Never-Ending Search for Quality Utility Players [2016 Season Review]

Ackley. (Presswire)
Ackley. (Presswire)

Building a quality bench is more difficult than it seems. Bench players are like relievers. Their performance can fluctuate wildly from year to year because they inherently work in small sample sizes, and weird stuff happens in small samples. A bench guy will hit .330 with a ton of clutch hits one year, then struggle to get off the interstate the next. Happens all the time. That’s baseball.

The Yankees have spent the last few years building their bench through trades and from within. Signing free agent bench players is tough. Bench guys usually look for the most playing time when they hit free agency, and the Yankees rarely offer that. They tend to have a defined roster with set players at each position. This year, the Yankees cycled through a pair of bench players — one acquired via trade, the other developed from within — capable of playing first base, second base, and right field. Neither worked out too well.

The Good Fit Who Didn’t Hit

Last year at the trade deadline the Yankees made just one small trade, acquiring Dustin Ackley from the Mariners for spare parts Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez. Ackley, a former top prospect and No. 2 pick in the draft, seemed like a decent enough upside play. He’s versatile, and the Mariners haven’t had much success developing hitters over the years, so a change of scenery could have helped.

Ackley, now 28, had a nice little run with the Yankees after the trade, hitting .288/.333/.654 (162 wRC+) with four homers in 57 games. His spot on the 2016 bench was secure. Ackley had a very strong Spring Training, putting up a .298/.313/.404 batting line, and I remember wondering how the Yankees would get him in the lineup. They’d have to sit Mark Teixeira now and then, same with Starlin Castro and Carlos Beltran. And Alex Rodriguez.

Once the season started, Ackley rarely played, and when he did get a chance to play, he didn’t perform. That seems to be how these things work. A guy appears to fit the roster well based on his positional versatility and bat, but he doesn’t play. Call it the Curse of Garrett Jones™. Ackley appeared in nine of the Yankees’ first 29 games and started only four of them. During that time he went 2-for-17 (.118) at the plate. Yeah.

Injuries to A-Rod, Teixeira, and Jacoby Ellsbury opened up some playing time in May, so at one point Ackley started 13 of 24 team games and appeared in six others. In those 24 team games, he went 7-for-44 (.159). On May 29th, Ackley’s season came to an abrupt end when he managed to tear the labrum in his right shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw.

Pretty much exactly what happened to Mason Williams last year. Dove back into first and tore up his shoulder. Sucks. Ackley actually remained in that game initially. He ran the bases and played another inning in the field before being removed. Tests after the game revealed the labrum tear. Ackley had his season-ending surgery five days later.

In 28 games and 70 plate appearances this season, Ackley hit .148/.243/.148 (11 wRC+) with six runs scored, four runs driven in, eight walks, and nine strikes. He did not have an extra-base hit or a multi-hit game. Ackley saw his most action at first base (85 innings), and he also saw time in right (54.1 innings) and at second base (one inning). Not to be forgotten is this great play at Camden Yards:

That’s pretty much the only notable thing Ackley did this past season. MLBTR projects him to receive a $3.2M salary through arbitration next year, and while that represents no raise at all, it’s too much for a fringe player coming off major shoulder surgery. Ackley was a non-tender candidate before the injury. The surgery made him a lock. The Yankees could bring him back on a minor league contract, but, as is often the case with these players, Ackley will look for the greatest opportunity, which figures to take him elsewhere.

The Utility Man in Training

Over the past two seasons the Yankees have made it pretty clear they believe Rob Refsnyder is most valuable in a utility role. They didn’t give him a chance at second base last year whenever Stephen Drew slipped into one of his long stretches of nothingness, and when Refsnyder showed up to Spring Training this year, the Yankees pointed him towards third base and said get to work.

During Grapefruit League play Refsnyder saw most of his work at the hot corner, playing 54.1 innings at third compared to only 27 at second. He didn’t see any time in the outfield. For the most part Refsnyder handled himself well. He made the routine plays and that was about it. He didn’t look comfortable there, but he handled it well. At least until taking ground balls to the face on consecutive days at the end of March. Ouch.

The Yankees went with Ronald Torreyes for their backup infielder spot — fun fact: Torreyes is 17 months younger than Refsnyder — mostly because he can play shortstop and is a better all-around defender than Refsnyder. The Yankees sent Refsnyder to Triple-A Scranton and had him continue working out at third base. He also got reacquainted with right field. The team tried to make him as versatile as possible.

Refsnyder was called up for the first time in mid-May, after A-Rod landed on the DL with a hamstring injury. That stint in the show lasted one game. He started in right field on May 28th, when 1-for-3 with a double against the Athletics in Oakland, then was sent down five days later. Four days after that, he was called back up. Refsnyder returned after Ackley blew out his shoulder diving into first base.

Refsnyder. (Presswire)
Refsnyder. (Presswire)

The second stint with the Yankees was much longer than the first. Refsnyder remained with the big league team until mid-August, and during this stint the club gave him a crash course at first base to help cover during Teixeira’s knee injury. Refsnyder had literally one afternoon session with infield coach Joe Espada before getting a start at first base. The Yankees threw him to the wolves.

As with third base in Spring Training, Refsnyder’s early work at first base was fine. He made the plays he was supposed to make, though occasionally his inexperience showed. He’d wander too far off the base for a ball he should have let the second baseman take, that sort of thing. All things considered, Refsnyder handled the new position well on such short notice. He spent three weeks as the everyday first baseman while Teixeira was hurt too.

Once Teixeira returned, Refsnyder became a platoon player who was regularly in the lineup against righties, often hitting second. Usually he played right field, but he also saw action at first base, second base, and even some left field. Following a quick demotion to Triple-A in August — the Yankees were running thin on arms at the time and needed bullpen reinforcements — Refsnyder returned once rosters expanded in September and resumed his role as a platoon player.

Through three different call-ups, the 25-year-old Refsnyder hit .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+) with good strikeout (17.1%) and walk (10.3%) rates in 175 plate appearances with the big league team. He also hit .274/.370/.355 (94 wRC+) against lefties. His at-bats were good, Refsnyder is a grinder at the plate, but he also hit for no power. Literally zero home runs despite calling Yankee Stadium home and watching balls fly out of the park all around the league all summer.

Refsnyder socked eight doubles in his first 83 at-bats with the Yankees, which is really good, especially considering he played sparingly. He then had one extra-base hit, a double, in his final 92 plate appearances of the season. Yikes. Here, look at Refsnyder’s spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

Rob Refsnyder spray chart

I count four balls hit to the warning track on the fly. In 175 plate appearances. Goodness. Refsnyder’s average batted ball distance was a mere 197 feet. That’s slap hitter territory. Chris Stewart (197 feet), Denard Span (196 feet), and Ichiro Suzuki (195 feet) reside there. Refsnyder, whose calling card is his bat, put the ball on the ground way too often (52.8%) and didn’t generate enough hard contact (26.4% vs. 31.4% MLB average).

Give Refsnyder credit. He worked really hard to learn third base and then first base on the fly in an effort to make himself more valuable to the Yankees. And perhaps all the work he did on the defensive side of the ball took away from his offense. Refsnyder wouldn’t be the first guy to go through that. Either way, he’s a bat first player whose bat wasn’t good enough in 2016. Quality at-bats are nice! But more production is needed going forward.

I really have no idea what the future holds for Refsnyder at this point. I could see him being an up-and-down bench guy next year. I could see him spending the entire season as a platoon bat. I could see him getting traded. There’s a whole world of possibilities. Refsnyder has one more minor league option left for next year, so the Yankees have some time. He’s a nice depth player to have. At some point though, Refsnyder’s going to have to take an opportunity and run with with it.

Saturday Links: Fan Appreciation, Caps, Girardi, Refsnyder

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
This year’s rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)

The Yankees and Blue Jays will continue their four-game series with the second game this afternoon. Until then, I recommend checking out Jeff Passan’s 25 things you didn’t know about baseball, plus these bits of news and notes.

Yankees holding Fan Appreciation Day

The Yankees announced they will hold a Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday, October 2nd, at Yankee Stadium. That’s the final day of the regular season, and the day of Mark Teixeira‘s farewell ceremony. Here’s the press release with all the details. In a nutshell, there are ticket discounts and seat upgrades and random prizes. All sorts of cool stuff. Best of all, everyone in attendance gets a voucher for two free tickets to a game next season. Nice work, Yankees. This is pretty great.

New Era logo coming to MLB caps

According to Chris Creamer, all MLB caps will feature the New Era logo on the left side starting this postseason. MLB’s contract with New Era was amended to include the logo recently, and this extends into the 2017 season. I’m not sure about beyond that. So yes, the iconic Yankees hat will have a New Era logo on the side next year, similar to this:

Yankees New Era hat

Hats were the last piece of the uniform that did not bear the manufacturer’s logo. In fact, Creamer says the Yankees are the only team in baseball exempt from having a Majestic logo on their jersey sleeves. I didn’t know that. The New Era logo is far more noticeable though, and frankly, it looks kinda amateurish. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but right now I’m not a fan. Maybe put a smaller New Era logo on the back of the hat near the MLB logo?

Girardi among best bullpen managers

Earlier this week Rob Arthur and Rian Watt put together a study that attempts to measure bullpen management, essentially by comparing reliever quality and leverage index. Which managers have their best relievers on the mound in the most important situations, basically. According to their metric, the best bullpen manager since 2000 is Joe Torre, believe it or not. He was 13% better than average. Joe Girardi and Ozzie Guillen are tied for second at 11%.

Two things I found interesting about Arthur’s and Watt’s work: One, there’s not much correlation in bullpen management from year-to-year. A manager can have a good year one year and a bad one the next. I imagine reliever quality, which is very volatile, has a lot to do with that. And two, the difference between the best and worst bullpen managers is only about a win across a full 162-game season. That seems low, but remember, ultimately it’s up to the pitcher to perform. The manager doesn’t pitch. Even great pitchers have bad outings.

Refsnyder a Marvin Miller award finalist

Through fan voting, Rob Refsnyder has been selected as the AL East finalist for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, writes Bryan Hoch. The award is given annually to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” The winner is picked through a players-only vote, and the MLBPA will donate $50,000 on behalf of the winner to the charity of his choice.

Refsnyder has been working to raise money for A Kid’s Place, which helps Tampa area children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. He designed and is selling a t-shirt through Athletes Brand, with all proceeds this month going to the charity. The other division finalists for the Man of the Year award include two ex-Yankees: Curtis Granderson, David Robertson, Anthony Rizzo, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Turner.

Cashman says young players have to earn roster spots in 2017 because of course they do

Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

To no surprise, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will not simply hand their top young players roster spots next season. They’ll have to earn it. “May the best man win,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty recently when asked specifically about first base in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s retirement.

At this point it’s safe to say that yes, Gary Sanchez has earned his place on the 2017 Yankees. Not exactly going out on a limb here. He’s the only young guy who has forced the issue this season though. First base and right field are another matter, ditto the pitching staff. And the bench too, I suppose. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it all down.

1. Competition is good! There seems to be this sense that when you’re a rebuilding transitioning team, the best thing to do is throw the kids out there and let them sink or swim. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there comes a point when you have to run a young player out there everyday to help him develop, but handing players jobs? Nah. That should be reserved for the best of the best.

Besides, competition between young players is good and healthy. They push each other to get better and it helps foster that “be the best player you can be” mentality. That’s a good thing. “We want a team full of good players. That’s how we’re going to win games,” said Greg Bird to Kuty. “And that’s us competing or other people competing with each other makes us all better, than that’s what we want.”

2. There’s a wide range of outcomes at first base. A year ago at this time we were all thrilled about the future at first base, the same way we’re thrilled about the future at catcher right now. Bird burst onto the scene and played very well down the stretch last season. He wasn’t Sanchez, but he was pretty awesome. The Yankees really missed Bird this year. He would have helped at first base and DH big time.

Bird’s shoulder injury has created some questions about next season. How healthy will he be? How quickly will he be back at full strength? Will he ever get back to full strength? Bird told Kuty his shoulder feels great — “It’s stronger than what it was and it’s structurally sound now,” he said — and he’ll soon face live pitching in Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, but until he gets out there everyday, we just can’t know what he’s capable of. This was a major injury.

With any luck, Bird will come back and pick up right where he left off last season, giving the Yankees a no-doubt answer at first base. There’s a chance he may need time at Triple-A to shake off the rust, however, in which case Tyler Austin becomes Plan A at first base. I guess? Austin or Rob Refsnyder. Maybe Brian McCann or Austin Romine? First base could be really good or really bad next season. Bird could rake or the Yankees could end up cycling through players all year in an effort to find a solution.

Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Right field seems wide open. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m guessing they’d tell you they want Aaron Judge to take the right field job in Spring Training and run with it. Of their in-house options, he has the best chance to become a middle of the order bat one day. “He will have to earn his way on to next year’s roster. There are no absolutes. Without question, he’ll be better for the experience,” said Cashman to Andrew Marchand.

Judge struggled to make contact this season and he’s losing reps now due to the oblique injury, which stinks. That’s valuable development time, even if it is only three weeks. His primary competition figures to be Austin, Refsnyder, Aaron Hicks, and Mason Williams. And you know what? The right field job could fall on two players via platoon or some kind of time share. It would be awesome if Judge won the job. I feel like anything could happen in right field though. Hicks everyday, a Williams/Austin platoon, whatever.

4. A veteran backup plan feels like a must. The Yankees have brought in a veteran bench player to cover first base and right field the last two years, and it didn’t work either time. Garrett Jones didn’t hit last year and Dustin Ackley blew out his shoulder this year. Neither played all that much either because the Yankees had pricey veterans in the lineup. It was a smart use of a roster spot that didn’t work out.

Since the Yankees are poised to go young at first base and in right field next year, bringing in a veteran backup plan for depth again makes sense, and this time at-bats should be easier to come by. Veterans like Teixeira and Carlos Beltran get the benefit of the doubt and stay in the lineup no matter what. A struggling kid could see a little more time in the bench just to get a mental break now and then.

We can sort through potential candidates for this role in the offseason — I’ll be beating the Steve Pearce drum this winter, so get ready for it (yes I know he’s having elbow surgery) — though it’s worth noting the Yankees have some options for this role themselves. Perfect world scenario is what, Bird at first and Judge in right with Austin and/or Refsnyder backing up both positions? I guess so, but a little veteran depth to protect against a Bird setback/Judge whiff-fest would be nice.

5. Severino shouldn’t be guaranteed anything. Competition for a rotation spot or a few bullpen spots is nothing new. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees didn’t have some pitching spots up for grabs in camp. I’m sure that’ll be true next year as well. Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell could all wind up competing for the fifth starter’s job, for example. That would be ideal, really.

Luis Severino presents an interesting case. He got hammered as a starter this season in two separate stints, but he’s also dominated out of the bullpen. The Yankees insist they don’t want to give up on him as a starter because he’s still so young and I believe them. But, because he was so bad a starter this season and lost feel for his changeup, Severino shouldn’t come to camp with a rotation spot locked up like he did this year. He should have to earn it like everyone else.

Severino is in the bullpen right now because he gives the Yankees the best chance to win. That’s all there is to it. He hasn’t thrown his changeup much in relief — seven of his 200 pitches this month have been changeups, so yeah — and that’s kind of a problem. His development as a starting pitcher should be the priority in 2017. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it. Severino shouldn’t be handed a spot just because. That would be a mistake.

Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting for any power and he wants to change that next season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the trade deadline the Yankees have started a legitimate youth movement by calling up top prospects Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, as well as others like Tyler Austin and Ben Heller. Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell are in the rotation as well, though that’s largely due to necessity.

The one young player who predates all those guys is Rob Refsnyder, who was up briefly last season and has spent much of this year on the big league roster. He’s appeared in 54 games with the Yankees this season and figures to be a lineup regular the rest of the way thanks to the Starlin Castro and Jacoby Ellsbury injuries.

The 25-year-old Refsnyder has not had much of an impact at the plate this year, hitting .248/.334/.309 (70 wRC+) with zero home runs and only nine doubles in 171 plate appearances. He will work a walk (9.9%) and make contact (16.4% strikeouts), but not much more than that. For a bat-first (bat-only?) player, that’s not enough to stick around.

Refsnyder wants to change that. He wants to add some power to his game this offseason and he’s got a plan to make that happen. Here’s what Refsnyder told David Laurila over the weekend:

“I’m going to try to hit home runs next year,” Refsnyder told me on Friday. “I’ve had a lot of good conversations with people and I’m going to try to completely change my game. I think it will help my career.”

“I’m going to go back to the drawing board and watch a lot of video,” said Refsnyder. “I’ll probably watch a lot of (Brian) Dozier video. Dozier doesn’t have too long of a swing — he’s pretty short and compact — and his pull rate is really high. I’ll look at Daniel Murphy, too. He changed his game from being more of a contact guy — trying to put the barrel on the ball — to pulling the ball in the air.

“I’m never going to be one of those guys who hits for opposite-field power. That’s OK. Mookie Betts pulls the ball with the best of them. He goes the other way, but not for opposite-field home runs. Mookie and Dozier are the type of guys I need to look at.”

It’s an interesting thought, a non-power hitter trying to become a power hitter, and it’s not unprecedented. Refsnyder has identified the right guys to study — Dozier and Betts have both hit for far more power in the show than they were expected to in the minors — though as a right-handed hitter, he won’t benefit from the short porch by adopting their pull heavy approach. That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth trying though. I have some thoughts.

1. He needs to do more offensively to stick around. Simply put, Refsnyder will never be much of an asset in the field. He’s worked hard to pick up first and third base this season and that’s good. We haven’t seen him at third yet, but at least now Refsnyder’s an emergency option here. He’s spent plenty of time at first and second bases with the Yankees, and in the corner outfield.

The versatility is nice, but Refsnyder’s overall defense isn’t very good. It’s not even average, really. For him to have value and staying power in the big leagues, he’s going to have to hit and hit big. A bad defensive utility man with a .600-something OPS is not the most valuable player in the world, you know? No one expects Refsnyder to become a 40-homer guy like Dozier (seriously, wtf?), but getting to 15-20 homers would be huge.

2. He can cover the plate and drive inside pitches. There’s more to being a pull hitter than looking for a pitch inside and yanking it down the line. Pitchers aren’t stupid, they know when hitters are trying to pull the ball, which is why they’re going to stay on the outer half of the plate. For all their warts, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann have been really good at punishing outside pitches the last few years.

As you might expect given his strikeout and contact (83.8%) rates, Refsnyder does a really nice job covering the plate. He can reach outside pitches and put them in the play. At the same time, he does his most damage on inside pitches, when he can whip the bat around and pull the ball to left. Here are some strike zone heat maps. Contact rate is on the left and ISO is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view and I recommend doing that so you can actually read it.

Rob Refsnyder contact and ISOThe brighter the red the better, the brighter the blue the … worser? Anyway, the contact heat map (left) shows Refsnyder can get the bat on the ball no matter where it is in the strike zone, inside or outside, up or down. Down-and-in is his one glaring hole and that’s not uncommon at all. The ISO heat map (left) shows that while Refsnyder can make contact all around the strike zone, the inside pitch is the only one he’s been able to drive in his MLB career.

Plate coverage is good! That’s a nice skill to have. Refsnyder’s ability to become a power hitter and hit more home runs is going to depend largely on whether he’ll be able to make consistent hard contact on pitches on the outer half. He had handle the inside pitch. The up-and-in pitch, to be more specific. Anything down and on the outer half of the plate is a different matter.

3. He needs to get the ball in the air more often. You’re not going to hit for power if you don’t hit the ball in the air, and so far this season Refsnyder has a 52.4% ground ball rate in the big leagues. It was 66.7% (!) last year. Here are his recent Triple-A ground ball rates:

2016: 53.9% in 230 plate appearances
2015: 59.2% in 522 plate appearances
2014: 53.2% in 333 plate appearances

Geez, that’s a lot of ground balls, huh? It’s no wonder Refsnyder hit only 35 home runs in just over 2,000 minor league plate appearances. He’s no Greg Bird when it comes to hitting the ball in the air. That’s for sure.

Moreso than driving outside pitches, figuring out how to get the ball in the air is going to be Refsnyder’s top priority as he works to hit for more power. This is a must. Only four players have a .170+ ISO and a 50%+ ground ball rate over the last three years: Ryan Braun, David Peralta, A.J. Pollock, and Hunter Pence. Step one to hitting more homers is getting the ball airborne. Refsnyder knows that, I’m sure.

4. The upside outweighs the downside. The thought of a hitter revamping his hitting style and approach in an effort to hit more home runs can be scary. There’s a lot of muscle memory in Refsnyder’s swing and he’s going to have to alter it. What if the power hitting fails and he screws up his normal swing? It could be a career-ender.

It’s easy for me to say this because it’s not my livelihood on the line, but I think this is worth a shot. The upside is greater than the downside. As it stands, Refsnyder is basically a utility guy who might not be average on either side of the ball, and that’s a tough profile. Hitting for more power can help keep him in the big leagues longer. He doesn’t have to turn into Brian Dozier, he just has to do more than he has been. His current skill set may not be built to last.

Saturday Links: Mateo, Instructs, Gurriel, Refsnyder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. Here are some bits of news and notes to hold you over.

Mateo among Law’s most disappointing prospects

After blazing start to the season with High-A Tampa, shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo hit a wall in June and never really recovered. He finished the year with a thoroughly disappointing .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) batting line despite setting a new career high with eight homers. Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%).

It’s no surprise then that Mateo is one of eight top 100 prospects who took a step back this season, according to Keith Law (subs. req’d). “Getting suspended for two weeks for an unspecified violation of team rules was just the tip of the iceberg … multiple scouts have told me they haven’t seen Mateo make anywhere near enough hard contact,” said his write-up. “(The Yankees) seem to have soured a little on his makeup and have clearly superior shortstop options elsewhere in the system.”

The Yankees were ready to trade Mateo to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them shop him for pitching this offseason. They have a ton of shortstops in the farm system, including the superior Gleyber Torres, and Mateo still has enough top prospect shine to headline a package for a quality young pitcher. Right now I think there’s better than a 50/50 chance Mateo is traded this winter. We’ll see.

Instructional League roster released

Earlier this week Baseball America (no subs. req’d) posted the Yankees’ Instructional League roster. Instructs start later this month and run through mid-November. The roster looks the same as always. Some top prospects but mostly recent draftees and international signees, and players who missed time to injury. Blake Rutherford is apparently healthy enough for Instructs after missing the end of the season with a hamstring injury, so that’s cool.

Yesterday we heard James Kaprielian faced hitters for the first time since being shut down with an elbow injury way back in April. He’s not on the Instructional League roster but could always be added and get some innings there. The Yankees want Kaprielian to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and Instructs would be a natural stepping stone. Also, Greg Bird will face living pitching in Instructional League for the first time since shoulder surgery. He’s not on the roster but that might have to do with the fact he’s technically a rehabbing big leaguer, not a minor leaguer.

Gurriel holds showcase for MLB teams

Cuban infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. held a workout for teams earlier this week in Panama City, reports Jesse Sanchez. There were 60 scouts in attendance and Gurriel did the usual: fielded ground balls, shagged fly balls, took batting practice, ran sprints, that sort of stuff. “I have been waiting for this moment and now it became a reality. This was my first step to the big leagues, God willing. I’m grateful for everyone who helped me get to this point,” he said.

Sanchez said scouts were impressed by Gurriel’s arm and physicality, though the consensus is he needs more at-bats against live pitching. I mean, duh. He hasn’t played in a competitive game in almost a year now. The expectation has always been that Gurriel will need to spend some time in the minors before helping a big league team, the same way his brother did. Yulieski, by the way, has hit .329/.350/.500 (129 wRC+) with three homers in his first 22 games with the Astros, so that’s going well.

Lourdes is not Yoan Moncada, but he’s pretty darn good. He’s working out for teams now even though he won’t sign until he turns 23 next month. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the league’s international spending restrictions, so teams can pay him whatever they want. The Yankees haven’t signed a big name Cuban player in a long time, not since Jose Contreras, so I really have no reason to think they’ll sign Gurriel. Maybe they’ll surprise me.

Refsnyder nominated for Marvin Miller award

Rob Refsnyder is the Yankees’ nominee for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, the MLBPA announced earlier this week. The award is given annually to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Fans can vote to select one finalist from each division. Here’s the ballot.

Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California when he was three months old, has been helping raise money for a charity called A Kid’s Place, which helps Tampa area children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Refsnyder designed and is selling a t-shirt through Athletes Brand, with all the proceeds this month going to the charity. Pretty awesome. Well done, Ref.

Refsnyder and Williams are the Yankees’ best options in the wake of the Judge injury

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Last night the Yankees won the second game of their three-game series with the Dodgers, but they also lost an everyday player to injury. Right fielder Aaron Judge tweaked his right oblique taking a swing, and although he stayed in to finish the at-bat, he was pulled from the game after the inning was over. Judge will go for an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

“It’s possible (he’s done for the season),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game. “It’s his right rib cage. He’ll have an MRI. We won’t see him for a while … I just told him, ‘You’re out.’ I called him over and he didn’t really argue. We’ve got to get this checked out and see where you’re at.”

Judge’s first month or so in the big leagues has been a mixed bag. He’s hitting .179/.263/.345 (61 wRC+) overall with a 44.2% strikeout rate, so for the most part his at-bats have been unproductive. At the same time, every once in a while Judge will do this …

… and remind you exactly why he’s been so highly touted the last few seasons. That’s not even the longest home run Judge has hit in his short time as a big leaguer. He hit one over the windows of the restaurant in center field last month. Between the power and the strikeouts, it’s amazing Judge ever sees a fastball. It really is.

Anyway, the injury means the Yankees are down not only their starting right fielder in Judge, but also their backup right fielder. Aaron Hicks is still out of action with a Grade II hamstring, remember. At the moment the Yankees have only three healthy true outfielders on the active roster: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Eric Young Jr. That’s it. (I won’t blame you if you forgot about EYJ. I did too.)

Even if the MRI today reveals good news, chances are the Yankees will be without Judge for at least a few days. Oblique strains usually don’t heal overnight. Also, they’re very easy to reaggravate, and Judge isn’t a nobody. The Yankees are going to play it very safe with him. The last thing they want is him to suffer a setback that throws his offseason workouts out of whack. Here are the team’s options with Judge sidelined.

Short-Term Fix

Girardi all but confirmed Rob Refsnyder will step in as the every right fielder for the time being. They really have no other choice. “That’s what I’ll go with now and obviously I’ve got to talk to (Brian Cashman) to see if we’re going to make a move here,” said the manager last night. The only other option is Tyler Austin, who is the most-of-the-time first baseman, so Refsnyder it is.

In sporadic playing time this year Refsnyder has a .268/.342/.333 (81 wRC+) batting line in 159 plate appearances. That’s … unique. He’s drawing walks (10.1%) and making contact (13.2% strikeouts), but he’s also hit for zero power. Refsnyder’s yet to hit a home run and he has only nine doubles too. He works a quality at-bat almost every time up and that’s great. Some extra-base pop would be cool though.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Hopefully the doubles and homers come now that Refsnyder will get a chance to play everyday. His defense is not great in right field — maybe this will press Young into defensive replacement duty in tight games? — but again, the Yankees are pretty much out of options. Based on the guys they have on the active roster, Refsnyder is the best right field solution.

Returning Soon?

Grade II hamstring strains can be pretty serious and they tend to lead to prolonged absences, but Hicks is already back performing baseball activities. He got hurt on August 31st and he’s already started running in the outfield and taking batting practice. Hicks is going to Tampa later today to ramp up his rehab, and it sounds as though the goal is to activate him off the DL when the Yankees arrive for their series with the Rays next week.

As crappy a year as he’s had, getting Hicks back as soon as next week would be pretty huge. At the very least, he could replace Refsnyder for defense in the late innings. Best case scenario is Hicks picks up where he left off in August — he hit .280/.330/.439 (106 wRC+) in fairly regular playing time last month — and takes over right field everyday. A little friendly competition between Refsnyder and Hicks would be good for both, I think. Either way, there’s a chance Hicks will return as soon as next week. That would be pretty awesome.

The Call-Up Candidate

The Yankees have one outfielder on the 40-man roster who is not in the big leagues right now: Mason Williams. Williams returned from shoulder surgery at midseason and hit .317/.335/.410 (112 wRC+) in 46 regular season minor league games, almost all at Triple-A. Typical Mason Williams, basically. At least when he’s going good. Williams has carried that performance over into the postseason with the RailRiders too.

Girardi acknowledged a Williams call-up was possible last night — “It’s going to be really difficult (with a short bench) … There’s outfielders down there that we’re going to have to talk about because we’re short,” he said — and given where the Yankees are in the postseason race, everything has to be on the table at this point. They surely want Williams to get as many at-bats as possible following shoulder surgery, but playing with a short bench in a postseason race makes no sense.

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell one more Triple-A start to iron things out earlier this month, but as soon as Chad Green got hurt, they called Mitchell up because he was the best option. The same applies to Williams. Would they like him to get more at-bats with the RailRiders? Surely. Judge’s injury has forced their hand though, and with a playoff spot within reach, having the best team possible has to be the priority.

Scranton’s season will end no later than Saturday — it can end as soon as tomorrow — and I’m guessing Williams won’t make it that far. He’ll be up before then, perhaps later today. The RailRiders would be pretty screwed during the International League Championship Series, but the big league team is the always the priority. Chances are we’ll see Mason very soon.

The Long Shots

The three other outfielders with Triple-A Scranton are not on the 40-man roster: Clint Frazier, Cesar Puello, and Jake Cave. I can’t see them calling Frazier up a year before he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible. That would be a big time panic move. Puello and Cave are a different story because cutting them loose in the offseason wouldn’t be a big deal. If the Yankees do decide to give Williams more at-bats in Triple-A following surgery, Puello or Cave could get the call instead. This section is called “The Long Shots” for a reason though. I don’t see this happening. Puello, Cave, and Frazier are all options available to the Yankees. They’re not that desperate yet though.

* * *

The Judge injury isn’t devastating — he wasn’t hitting much outside the occasional dinger — but it further thins out the Yankees’ outfield. Refsnyder is a short-term solution and Hicks might be back next week, which would be cool. My guess is we’ll see Williams sooner rather than later too. There’s a clear need and he can be useful, even if he’s only a defensive replacement for the time being. The Yankees may not want to use Refsnyder in right or call up Williams before the end of the Triple-A season, but they’re short on outfielders at the moment, and those two are their best immediate options with Judge and Hicks out.

Yanks add Severino, five others as first round of call-ups

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees added six players to the active roster today as their first round of September call-ups, the team announced. The six players: Luis Severino, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Kirby Yates, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Holder. It’s safe to assume all six will be with the team and available for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

Severino, Goody, Refsnyder, and Yates were expected to come up. They’ve all gone up-and-down a few times this season and those guys are typically among the first ones called up when rosters expand. Severino is going to pitch in relief and chances are he’ll assume a prominent late-inning role right away. He was in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, so he’s good for three or four innings at a time, if necessary.

Holder is the most interesting call-up. Earlier this week it was reported the Yankees would not call anyone up before they are Rule 5 Draft eligible, which Holder is not. They have a massive 40-man roster crunch coming after the season, and adding Holder before it was necessary would further clog things up. Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman he decide to call Holder up because he gives the team the best chance to win.

“I changed my mind,” said the GM. “I wrestled back and forth with it, but the bottom line is we are 2.5 out with a month to go and (Holder) is better than some guys we have already promoted. He’s earned the right to be here. It was a roster issue that he wasn’t coming. But this will get his feet wet. He will get some exposure and we will find out what he is capable of.”

Young was acquired earlier this week to serve as the designated pinch-runner. The only time we’ll see Young play the field or hit is in the late innings of blowouts. Both Young and Holder had to be added to the 40-man roster. One takes Ben Gamel‘s spot, and to clear the other, Nick Rumbelow was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day DL. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Not sure why they didn’t just transfer Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL. Whatevs.

Right now the only healthy players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues are Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, J.R. Graham, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Mason Williams. Mitchell, Pazos, and Williams all missed significant time with injury this season, so they’ll remain in Triple-A and continue to get regular playing time. I’m sure most of these guys will be called up later this month.