Predictions by Position

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

After today, the next time you read a post from me, the Yankees will be three hours away from their first pitch of the season against the Tampa Bay Rays (while we’re on it, how silly is it that even in a dome, the Yankees have an off day after their Opening Day? Isn’t the point of the dome to avoid that? Ugh.). That’s pretty damn cool, huh? It also means you’re in for a flurry of prediction posts, so allow me to be near the top of the list. When September ends, we can all look back at this and laugh at how absurdly wrong I was.

Catcher

Gary Sanchez will struggle at the plate to start the year and a certain segment of fans–the talk radio set–will become frustrated, though his defense is mostly fine. By early June, though, Sanchez will find his stroke and finish the year with about 20 homers and a caught stealing percentage near the top of the league.

Austin Romine will remain the backup all year, turning in a very typical backup season. But, for him, it’s a coup as it lands him a two-year contract after the season to stay on as Sanchez’s reserve.

Carter. (Presswire)
Carter. (Presswire)

First Base

I don’t know exactly what the combination will be or how it will break down to a man, but Greg Bird and Chris Carter will combine for 40 homers.

Shortstop and Second Base

I’m combing these thanks to the Didi Gregorius injury. Ruben Tejada will start the year at short. By mid-April, though, his bat will not be worth the defensive contribution and he’ll be let go. Starlin Castro will slide over to short and “everyone” will get their wish as Rob Refsnyder will be called up to play second, the team willing to live with his defense since his offense will be needed more. He’ll have a hot first week, then cool down just in time for Didi to return and send Castro back to second.

Didi will take a slight step back offensively this year, as will Castro. However, they’ll be able to buoy it with solid defense, becoming one of the top double play combinations in the league.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

Third Base

Chase Headley continues his ‘bounce back’ that started after his terrible beginning to 2016. He ends the year around a 100 wRC+, but his defense begins to show a little bit of wear before he heads into the last year of his contract.

Outfield

Brett Gardner bounces back offensively. The power doesn’t come back totally, but he reaches double digits in homers again and regains some of his base-stealing prowess. Jacoby Ellsbury hovers around where he was last year and his steals stay flat as he’s not apt to run in front of Sanchez or Matt Holliday, whoever occupies the three spot.

Aaron Judge struggles through the first month and is sent down to Scranton and Aaron Hicks takes over in right for a bit. Judge is eventually recalled and put in a platoon to start, but earns his way back into the starting role, promising better things for 2018.

(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)

Designated Hitter

Holliday shows flashes of his Colorado self, but is generally more like the player he was in St. Louis last year. He surprises, though, with a fair amount of opposite field homers and winds up leading the team in that category.

Starting Rotation

Michael Pineda comes out of the gates like a bat out of hell. He pushes his way into the All Star Game, but falters down the stretch, reminding us more of 2016 than the early part of 2017.

CC Sabathia pitches like a number two for half his starts and a number five for the other half. Masahiro Tanaka again competes for the Cy Young Award, putting up an even better case this year than last year.

Adam loves it. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Bullpen

Adam Warren becomes the new Dellin Betances. No, he won’t be as dominant as Dellin, but he’ll move into the multi-inning, high-leverage spot, allowing Betances to join Tyler Clippard and Aroldis Chapman as a more traditional one-inning reliever when Warren is fresh.

Team

What will all this add up to? Somehow, someway, I’m thinking…84 wins. That sounds right, no? What wild, crazy, or boring predictions do you have? If we’re gonna laugh at me in September, let’s laugh at you, too.

Play ball.

Could Didi Gregorius’ injury be Rob Refsnyder’s opportunity?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Didi Gregorius‘ injury is unfortunate in every way, even if he may only miss a month of the season. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement and, much more importantly, a key cog of their future has to deal with an injury that can set him back after he made strides last season and hoped to bring into this season. Furthermore, Gregorius’ best tool is perhaps his arm strength and that could be affected by this injury.

As with every injury in sports, there is now an opportunity for someone else. As Mike detailed the other day and some reporters have indicated, the likeliest scenario is Starlin Castro, despite his prior experience at short, to stay at second while Ronald Torreyes and possibly Ruben Tejada or Pete Kozma take the load at short. This is a fine option, albeit with the lesser offensive (and likely defensive) production at shortstop. It’d be tough to imagine Tyler Wade or Gleyber Torres are quite ready for the job either (again, check out Mike’s piece on this).

There is another option, albeit one that guarantees lesser performance defensively and that is moving Castro to shortstop — he played just three games there last year — and handing the second base job to … Rob Refsnyder. The oft-talked of second baseman has been masquerading as a super utility player for the last year, but perhaps this is the opportunity he needs to prove himself, one way or another.

Joe Girardi talked about how the team sees him as that utility player, working all around the field. “I look at him at second, first, right and left, is how I look at Ref,” Girardi said to the Daily News. “Depending on what we do, that’s why I talked about he can play his way in, and if he’s an extra infielder and outfielder, whatever he is, then you might have to move Castro to play some short. If you give (Chase Headley) a day off and you move Torreyes over, then that would be Ref’s spot at second. Those are the different options we have.”

Is this the chance Refsnyder needs? Well, he’ll need to show some improvements to make it happen.

1. Refsnyder needs to show more at the plate

So far in his MLB career, Refsnyder has had all of 222 plate appearances. For all the talk of him taking over second base during the 2015 season, it would seem like he’d have taken more ABs, but alas, that is not the case. He hit quite well during his 47 PAs in 2015 (131 wRC+) but looked exposed in sporadic stints last season, batting just .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+).

As has been discussed on this website before, he needs to hit for power in order to make at the big league level. He actually had a .512 slugging percentage (.210 ISO) in 2015 and there was reason to believe he has some power potential. With Torreyes, you’re simply not going to get much power, but you’ll get plenty of contact. He hit .258/.305/.374 (81 wRC+) last season in 168 plate appearances and had an 11.9 percent strikeout rate compared to Refsnyder’s 17.1 percent mark.

Refsnyder does walk a bit more than Torreyes, but as detailed below, he’s enough of a negative defensively that he’ll need to more than make up for it at the plate for this experiment to be worth it. While spring stats are relatively meaningless, Refsnyder has struck out in 11 of 39 PAs while Torreyes has just two in 41 PAs. Refsnyder does have a better slash line this spring but neither has impressed with the bat.

2. How would it work defensively?

Losing Gregorius is a blow to the Yankees’ team defense. While defensive metrics were down on Didi last season, it’s likely that Gregorius would have been a defensive plus for the month or so he’ll now miss. Last season, Torreyes only played 99 innings at shortstop, his only time at short in his brief MLB career. He made one error in 11 starts there while UZR had him at -0.7 there (-15.9 UZR/150). Again, short sample size, hard to judge.

So what would happen if instead of Torreyes getting extended time at short, Castro shifted over and Refsnyder moved to second in his place? In Castro’s case, it could actually work out well. Castro has been seen as a definite negative in his 1,524 innings at second over the last two years with a -7.4 UZR. At shortstop, he’s been a minus in his career, albeit less so. He only played 20 innings there last season, but it is his natural position. He wasn’t particularly adept there (negative in DRS each season except 2012).

And then there’s Refsnyder. To be fair, he’s only played 147 MLB innings at second base, but they haven’t been pretty, either in terms of statistics or the eye test. He has a -3 DRS and -2.6 UZR in those innings and has been better, albeit in similarly small samples, at each other position he’s played in the majors. 1B, LF and RF are the ones he has more than an inning played (He actually graded out well in RF during 132 2/3 innings last year, if that’s worth anything). It’s also simply hard to forget how inept he looked at times during his stint at second in 2015. It seemed like a common announcer phrase during that time was “past a diving Refsnyder.”

All of this is to say that defensively, this pairing could be tough to stomach, hence why it’s so necessary that Refsnyder hit if he’s going to be anything more than a Quadruple A player.

3. Easy to change course

Putting Refsnyder in at second would be a perfect chance to see whether he sinks or swims at the big league level. He’d have the chance to know he’s starting every day for certain period and the team would see if he can produce with that comfort level. I have my doubts, but it’s an imperfect solution just like every other replacement for Gregorius.

If he didn’t perform after a few weeks, it’s easy to course correct. First of all, this is only temporary since Gregorius should miss only a month or so. With Torreyes on the roster, it’d also be simple enough to begin giving him the starts if the defensive minuses are too much or Refsnyder simply hack it at the plate.

The questions about Refsnyder can seem pretty glaring, but this would be a chance to answer them in a low cost scenario. It’s not like Torreyes will be much better with the bat. The worst case is that Refsnyder is so unpalatable at second that the team decides to send him back down to AAA quickly. In the best case, the Yankees find a suitable backup with restored promise for when Gregorius returns.

Hicks, Romine and the rest of the part-timers [2017 Season Preview]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

While the Yankees have plenty of new starters littered around its lineup, they appear to have a very similar bench to the one they fielded in 2016. They have the same fourth outfielder, the same backup catcher and, chances are, the same utility infielder. If it wasn’t the signing of Chris Carter and Tyler Austin‘s preseason injury, it would be essentially identical to the bench with which the team ended last season.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the individuals who will make up the Yankees’ Opening Day bench as well as a few players that could fill roles later in the season. (Disclaimer: I didn’t go into Gleyber Torres here. That’s worth another post entirely.)

Fourth Outfielder

It appears like it’ll be Aaron Hicks as the extra outfielder again this year. I’m someone who really believes in his potential. It’s been over a year since the Yankees dealt John Ryan Murphy, a player I enjoyed watching an irrational amount, for Hicks in a deal that seemed to make sense for both teams. The Yankees needed a fourth outfielder and had a catcher of the future (Hi Gary Sanchez) while the Twins needed a catcher and had a center fielder of the future (Byron Buxton). A potential win-win.

Well, it didn’t work out that well for either team. Murphy simply didn’t hit in Year 1 in Minnesota while Hicks hasn’t quite panned out yet in New York. To be fair, both players are still relatively young, but time is running out for them to prove themselves. Let’s focus on what Hicks brings to the table as he gets another chance to prove himself.

Hicks, 27, has always been close to an 80 in one tool: his arm. It’s a cannon. He’s also pretty fast. Combine that and he makes for a solid fielder, although his routes to balls have been rough at times. He can still man each spot in the field well, but he’s been relegated mostly to the corners to start this spring.

And then there’s his bat. He took a clear step back from 2015 to 2016, going from .256/.323/.398 (96 wRC+) to .217/.281/.336 (64 wRC+). That’s doesn’t cut it. A switch-hitter, Hicks came in with a reputation as a better right-handed bat than a lefty. He actually improved from the left side (79 wRC+ to 86 wRC+) but went from a .307/.375/.495 (138 wRC+) line to a paltry .161/.213/271 (25 wRC+) from the right. That’s pretty dumbfounding. His exit velocity actually increased from 90.1 to 90.8 mph from the left side and his strikeout rate fell (his walk rate did too), but his BABIP plummeted from .368 to .176.

That could indicate a potential improvement for Hicks, who seemed to struggle with the lack of regularity concerning his role last year (he improved in the second half when Carlos Beltran was traded). However, he may not get consistent starts again this year with Aaron Judge presumably manning right field. Therefore, the Aaron Hicks project may reach a crossroads this season when he becomes arbitration eligible for the first time after this season.

Beyond Hicks, Mason Williams is the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster. Williams has 51 MLB plate appearances over the last two years. When healthy, he is plenty fast to man center field and seems like he can hit for average. Health will be key for the 25-year-old as he tries to make the roster for good at some point.

Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler will be in Triple A to start the year. They’re both 22 and will need more at-bats in Scranton before they can earn a role in the majors. Frazier, being the better prospect, may be more likely to force his way to the majors this summer.

Backup catcher

Austin Romine returns as the backup catcher with a different starter ahead of him. Gary Sanchez, as Mike eloquently covered, is the face of the franchise now and it stands to reason that Romine could see fewer starts this season than last. Romine played 50 games at catcher, started 40, while starting two games at first base and four at designated hitter. Chances are, the latter six starts go away with younger and healthier options at 1B and DH, but who knows? I wouldn’t have bet on multiple Romine starts away from catcher last year.

Romine was fine as the bench backstop in 2016 and was much better than his first stint in 2013, when he was backing up Chris Stewart. He batted .242/.269/.382 (68 wRC+) and was better against southpaws. That allowed him to get more starts early in the season when Brian McCann was struggling against lefties. Now, with Sanchez as the starter, Romine will still get once or twice-a-week starts yet it’s hard to see him getting to take advantage of platoon advantages quite as often. That may lead to a worse batting line despite no decline in talent or performance.

The other catcher on the 40-man is Kyle Higashioka. Higashioka was finally healthy in 2016 and rode that to a 20-homer season. He has legitimate power, which has been conveyed plenty of times this spring. The Yankees likely won’t take Higashioka with them on Opening Day — they’d have to DFA Romine — but he’ll only be a bus trip away in Scranton.

Utility infielder

The backup infielder job looks like it is Ronald Torreyes‘ job to lose again this year. Torreyes was a bit of a surprise to claim the spot last year out of the spring, but he held onto it all year. He’s the perfect bench player: He makes plenty of contact, can play every infield position (and the outfield corners in a pinch) and seems to be a good presence around the club. He doesn’t hit for power — do you remember his home run last year? I barely do — but the Yankees would gladly sign up for another .258/.305/.374 line from the part-timer.

It seems highly unlikely that Torreyes won’t break camp with the team. Pete Kozma and Ruben Tejada have each been fine yet unimpressive in their brief spring stints and it may be tough to top the incumbent. Donovan Solano is another non-roster invitee and has been away from the club playing for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic. He did have a solid cup of coffee with the Yankees last fall.

Tyler Austin

austin low five
(Getty)

As we covered in the Greg Bird preview post, Carter will receive a lot of the righty at-bats at first base this season, likely platooning with Bird. Before Carter’s signing, many thought that role would be filled by Tyler Austin. That idea went fully down the tubes with his preseason injury (fractured left foot) which will prevent him from playing most of the spring.

Austin provided real power in his 90 plate appearances in the majors last year, particularly the other way. He did strike out 36 times. For now, the 25-year-old first baseman likely starts the season in extended spring training or goes straight to Scranton, waiting for a call-up. You can almost surely count on Austin playing with the Yankees at some point.

Rest of the 40-man

Remember when Rob Refsnyder was the talk of the town in 2015? Part of that was just a clamoring for anyone but Stephen Drew, but Refsnyder also provided promise that he could hit at the big league level. However, he didn’t come quite as advertised and his 2016 was a disappointment. Given 175 plate appearances last season, he showed nearly no power and had a disappointing .250/.328/.309 line. Without a serious showing with his bat, Refsnyder doesn’t have a role in the majors, hence the Yankees’ willingness to trade him. Can he prove to be more than just a Quad-A player? It’s tough to see right now.

Miguel Andujar hasn’t played above Double A before, so he will need some experience in Scranton before he can be considered for a long-term role. His fielding has been a bit rough at times this spring, so that’s something for him to work on in Triple A. Still, he’s a top 10 third base prospect according to MLB.com and a potential future piece, albeit not likely before September this year.

The man furthest from the majors on the 40-man roster is Jorge Mateo, a top five Yankees prospect depending on the source. Mateo probably doesn’t factor into the Yankees’ plans in 2017, but he would make the ideal pinch runner in September. That’s about the extent to his role in the majors as far as I can tell.

King: Yankees have put Rob Refsnyder on the trade block

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Yankees have let other teams know they’re willing to list to trade offers for Rob Refsnyder. I suppose that applies to every player. It’s unclear whether any other clubs have interest, or if offers have been made. The Athletics have had interest in Refsnyder in the past. They wanted him (and Adam Warren) for Ben Zobrist at the 2015 trade deadline.

Refsnyder, 26 later this month, is on the outside looking in at the Opening Day roster right now, even after Tyler Austin‘s fluke foot injury. Greg Bird has had a very strong Grapefruit League season to date, giving him the leg up on the first base job. That means Chris Carter figures to join the backup catcher (Austin Romine), backup infielder (Ronald Torreyes), and backup outfielder (Aaron Hicks) on the bench.

An injury could always clear a roster spot, as could Aaron Judge striking out in 60% of his at-bats the rest of the month, but otherwise there’s no clear path to playing time for Refsnyder. He’s a depth player for the Yankees, one they don’t trust defensively at second or third bases. They’ve made that clear with their reluctance to use him at those positions. Right field and first base are his primary positions, for all intents and purposes.

Refsnyder managed to get into 58 games last season, hitting .250/.328/.309 (72 wRC+) overall and .274/.370/.355 (94 wRC+) against lefties. The lack of power is hard to ignore. He hit zero MLB homers last season even though balls were flying out of the park all around the league, and only once in five pro seasons has he hit double digit homers (14 in the minors in 2014). Refsnyder will grind out at-bats, but that’s about it.

What could the Yankees get for Refsnyder? Not a whole lot, probably. Players like this — non-top prospects with questions about both his bat and glove — usually don’t bring a big return. Remember Jose Pirela? Getting Ronald Herrera for him turned out to be a coup. The Rays got a middling pitching prospect (Buddy Borden) for Sean Rodriguez two years ago. The most optimistic projection system (ZiPS) pegs Refsnyder as a +1 WAR player in 2017 and that’s just not very valuable.

The fact Refsnyder is cheap (still in his pre-arbitration years), optionable (he has one option left), and somewhat versatile makes me think an NL team could take a look at him as a bench player. That would be best for Refsnyder at this point. It’s hard to see where he fits with the Yankees long-term. At the same time, keeping him and stashing him in Triple-A for depth in 2017 wouldn’t be a bad idea either, at least while Austin is out.

Tyler Austin’s injury opens a door a bit for Rob Refsnyder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees suffered their first major injury of the year last week, when Tyler Austin fouled a pitch into his left foot during batting practice and suffered a fracture. He’ll be out at least six weeks. His chances of making the Opening Day roster weren’t great to begin with following the Chris Carter signing. Now Austin has no chance to break camp with the team.

The injury somewhat clarified the first base position battle, a position battle that includes both first base as well as one bench spot. Carter signed a guaranteed big league contract and was always going to be part of the Opening Day roster. Nothing changed there. Here’s the rest of the pecking order for this position battle:

  1. Greg Bird
  2. Tyler Austin
  3. Rob Refsnyder
  4. Ji-Man Choi

Austin was next in line behind Bird. That seemed pretty clear. Refsnyder figures to be ahead of Choi simply because he’s already on the 40-man roster, and also because he’s a little more versatile. Choi has outfield experience, though he really should be limited to first base only. You can stick Refsnyder in right and he won’t kill you defensively, plus he can handle second base in a pinch. That gives him an edge over Choi.

It’s no secret the Yankees want Bird to take that first base job and run with it. Carter gives the club a viable platoon partner for all those tough AL East lefties (Chris Sale, David Price, etc.) and also some insurance in case Bird does need more time to get his swing back. That insurance is already proving useful thanks to Austin’s injury. I told you these things have a way of working themselves out, right? Right.

Austin’s injury opens the door for Refsnyder a little bit. He’s now next in line for a call-up, whether that’s due to an injury early in the season or even on Opening Day should the Yankees not deem Bird big league ready. Austin was first in line for any roster opening. Now it’s Refsnyder, at least until Austin is healthy. (Mason Williams is out with an inflamed patella, which also works in Refsnyder’s favor.)

I don’t think Refsnyder’s chances of making the Opening Day roster are all that good, not unless there’s an injury, but now he could be the first call-up option when help is needed. Austin is going to miss at least six weeks, the Yankees say. It could be longer. And once he’s healthy, he’ll essentially have to go through Spring Training to get ready for the season. He won’t pick up a bat and be ready to go.

Six weeks from the time of the injury is basically Opening Day. The Yankees are fortunate it happened at the very start of camp and not near the end. Austin could be healthy come the start of the season, and then after a few weeks of minor league at-bats to get game ready, he’ll again be a big league option. With any luck, that will all happen in April. Until then, Refsnyder is Plan A among New York’s minor league depth players.

I’m not quite sure where Refsnyder fits in the big picture long-term, and it’s entirely possible he doesn’t fit anywhere. This is his final minor league option year, so keeping him as depth is a no-brainer. The Yankees will be able to send him up and down as many times as they want. He offers a little versatility and, if nothing else, will grind out an at-bat offensively. Refsnyder may not have an inside track on an Opening Day roster spot, but the Austin injury does improve his chances of seeing the Bronx early in the season.

Where does each 2017 Yankee hit the ball the hardest?

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Ever since Statcast burst on to the scene last year, exit velocity has become part of the baseball lexicon. It’s everywhere now. On Twitter, in blog posts, even on broadcasts. You name it and exit velocity is there. Ten years ago getting velocity readings of the ball off the bat felt impossible. Now that information is all over the internet and it’s free. Free!

Needless to say, hitting the ball hard is a good thing. Sometimes you hit the ball hard right at a defender, but what can you do? Last season exit velocity king Giancarlo Stanton registered the hardest hit ball of the Statcast era. It left his bat at 123.9 mph. And it went for a 4-6-3 double play because it was a grounder right at the second baseman.

That’s a pretty good reminder exit velocity by itself isn’t everything. Launch angle is important too, as is frequency. How often does a player hit the ball hard? One random 115 mph line drive doesn’t tell us much. But if the player hits those 115 mph line drives more than anyone else, well that’s useful.

The Yankees very clearly believe in exit velocity as an evaluation tool. We first learned that three years ago, when they traded for Chase Headley and Brian Cashman said his exit velocity was ticking up. Former assistant GM Billy Eppler once said Aaron Judge has top tier exit velocity, and when he reached he big leagues last year, it showed. Among players with at least 40 at-bats in 2016, Judge was second in exit velocity, so yeah.

With that in mind, I want to look at where each projected member of the 2017 Yankees hits the ball the hardest. Not necessarily on the field, but within the strike zone. Every swing is different. Some guys are good low ball hitters, others are more adept at handling the inside pitch, and others can crush the ball no matter where it’s pitched. Not many though. That’s a rare skill. Those are the Miguel Cabreras of the world.

Also, I want to limit this to balls hit in the air, because as we saw in the Stanton video above, a hard-hit grounder is kinda lame. Hitting the ball hard in the air is the best recipe for success in this game. The average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives last season was 92.2 mph, up ever so slightly from 91.9 mph in 2015. I’m going to use 100 mph as my threshold for a hard-hit ball because, well, 100 mph is a nice round number. And it’s comfortably above the league average too.

So, with that in mind, let’s see where each Yankee hit the ball the hardest last season (since that’s the most relevant data), courtesy of Baseball Savant. There are a lot of images in this post, so the fun starts after the jump. The players are listed alphabetically. You can click any image for a larger view.

[Read more…]

Poll: Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder on the bench

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

When Spring Training opens in a little under the a month, the Yankees are going to have to sort out a few positions, and for once, it’s not because there’s a veteran guy in camp trying to make the team. The Yankees have several young players vying for two rotation spots, a bunch of bullpen spots, right field, and also first base. Brian Cashman insists right field and first base are wide open.

Of course, if you give Cashman a truth serum, he’d tell you he wants Greg Bird to take the first base job and run with it. Bird completed his shoulder surgery rehab and got some at-bats in the Arizona Fall League last year, but the Yankees know he might be all the way back to his 2015 form come Opening Day. A stint in Triple-A is entirely possible. Hopefully not, but if it’s necessary, what can you do?

Bird’s primary competition at first base is Tyler Austin, who reemerged as a prospect last season and made his big league debut in August. He did some cool things, like sock some clutch opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium, though he had his difficulties as well. Austin’s strikeout (40.0%) and contact (62.0%) rates weren’t much better than Aaron Judge‘s (44.2% and 59.7%), whom many seem to think will strike out his way to the prospect graveyard.

Also in the mix at first base will presumably be the recently signed Ji-Man Choi as well as Rob Refsnyder, who saw time at first last year. And the thing is, it’s entirely possible — if not likely — two of these players will make the Opening Day roster. Would a Bird-Austin platoon at first base surprise you? Not me. Same goes with Bird-Refsnyder. A Choi-Austin or Choi-Refsnyder platoon could happen too. (Austin-Refsnyder would be weird.)

Barring Spring Training injuries or surprises, the four-man bench going into the season figures to include a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Ronald Torreyes), and a backup infielder (Aaron Hicks). That assumes Hicks isn’t needed to play right field because Judge gets sent down to Triple-A. I feel like that would be the ideal bench, with the fourth spot still to be determined.

Bird winning the first base job would make carrying Choi on the bench sorta silly. I mean, yeah, Choi can play a little outfield, but not really. Carrying two left-handed hitting first baseman doesn’t make much sense. Austin or Refsnyder would be the best candidates for that fourth bench spot, especially with the Yankees trying to go young. What’s the advantage of carrying, say, Ruben Tejada over those guys? I don’t see one. Let’s make cases for Austin and Refsnyder on the bench, shall we?

The Case for Austin

In his limited big league time last year, Austin annihilated left-handers, hitting .348/.444/.652 (195 wRC+) against them even though three of his five homers came against righties. (Austin had a 62 wRC+ against righties). His split was far less pronounced in Triple-A: .365/.459/.698 against lefties and .304/.394/.609 against righties. Austin was a man among boys in Scranton. I’m not sure how useful his Triple-A splits are.

One thing we know for sure is Austin has more power than Refsnyder. A lot more. Refsnyder hit two home runs in 405 plate appearances last year. Two. Both in Triple-A. Austin hit five homers with the Yankees on top of the 17 he hit in the minors. He hit nearly as many homers in 2016 (22) as Refsnyder hit from 2014-16 (27). Austin’s right field pop is a fun fit for Yankee Stadium. He’ll unquestionably give New York more thump.

Defensively, Austin is limited to first base and the two corner outfield spots. He has minor league experience at third base (35 total games), but he’s not good there, so I wouldn’t consider him anything more than an emergency option at the hot corner. Furthermore, Austin is not a good defensive outfielder. We saw him take some weird routes and pull up short of the wall a few times last year. At first base he was fine enough. Not great, not terrible.

Austin has long been a bat-first player, which is why his prospect stock took a big hit when he didn’t do much at the plate from 2014-15. Put him on the bench, and Joe Girardi can use him as a platoon option at first as well as occasionally in the outfield and at DH. He gives them some legitimate power to use against all those AL East southpaws (Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Francisco Liriano, Blake Snell, Wade Miley).

The Case for Refsnyder

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

For long stretches of time last season Girardi used Refsnyder as a platoon bat against righties, often batting him second in the lineup. Refsnyder responded with a .274/.370/.355 (94 wRC+) batting line against southpaws, which, while short on power, is nice from an on-base point of view. Not making outs is cool. Austin has the advantage in power while Refsnyder boasts the better plate discipline numbers:

  • Austin in 2016: 40.0 K% and 7.8 BB% in MLB (25.2 K% and 13.7 BB% in Triple-A)
  • Refsnyder in 2016: 17.1 K% and 10.3 BB% in MLB (13.0 K% and 7.4 BB% in Triple-A)

One thing we saw out of Refsnyder last year — and even the year before, really — was consistently quality at-bats. He didn’t jump out of his shoes flailing at pitches out of the zone and he wasn’t afraid to hit with two strikes. The results weren’t always there, but have quality at-bats and the results will come eventually. Hopefully. Anyway, Austin has more swing and miss in his game.

Refsnyder’s lack of defense makes him a bat-first player as well, though based on what I saw last year, which admittedly isn’t much, Refsnyder is much more refined in the outfield than Austin. He won’t win Gold Gloves or anything, but he takes good routes and seems to be in control out there. Austin was a bit more … chaotic. Also, we know Refsnyder can play second if necessary, and last year the Yankees had him learn first and third base. As with Austin though, third seems like an emergency only option.

With Refsnyder on the bench, Girardi could continue using him as a platoon bat who will make a pitcher work, though he doesn’t figure to hit for much power. Right field is probably his best defensive position, but he can also play first and second bases if necessary, so there’s another layer of versatility there. Neither guy will set land speed records, so baserunning isn’t a tiebreaker.

* * *

Ultimately, this comes down to Austin’s power against Refsnyder’s contact skills and ability to play second base. Being able to play second is not nothing. With Torreyes and Austin on the bench, the Yankees can only rest one regular non-first base infielder at a time. With Torreyes and Refsnyder, Girardi will be able to rest two at the same time. At the end of a blowout or whatever.

In all likelihood both Austin and Refsnyder are going to spend time in the fourth bench spot next season. They both have minor league options remaining, and depending on the team’s needs at the time, they might find themselves going up and down. And you know what else? When injury strikes — and it inevitably will — chances are both will be on the roster at the same time. Baseball has a way of making these situations go away. Anyway, this question is ripe for a poll, so let’s get to it.

Who should get the final bench spot?
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