Profiling the 2017 Yankees: No Room for Rob Refsnyder?


Yanks Go Yard continues its Profiling the 2017 Yankees series, in which we break down interesting areas of the roster. Next up, what to do with Rob Refsnyder, who is failing to meet expectations:

Rob Refsnyder was a fan favorite back when there were no other Yankees prospects to cheer for. Now that the new wave of exhilarating youth — led by wunderkind catcher Gary Sanchez — has made inroads, Refsnyder has more or less faded from the big picture.

With no default position and plentiful bench options available to the Yankees, it’s difficult to factor Refsnyder into their future.

Refsnyder had promising prospect status as a bat-first player. The Yanks selected him in the 5th round of the 2012 Draft and converted him from a right fielder into a second baseman. The narrative of his minor league career was that his defense was sub-par, but overshadowed by his hitting ability. He notably climbed as high as No. 4 on’s 2015 Prospect Watch for the farm system.

Yankees fans were eager to see Ref as a September call-up after his breakout 2014 season. He clubbed 14 homers and hit .318 with an .884 OPS across the upper minors. An opportunity arose when Martín Prado required an emergency appendectomy, but the fan favorite was skipped over, and the spot instead went to José Pirela.

The following year, Refsnyder had an encouraging, but limited major league campaign. He burst onto the scene, slashing .302/.348/.512 with a 132 OPS+ through 16 games and even started in the AL Wild Card match.

His defense was — and still is — a work in progress. The Yankees have been willing to overlook this as long as Ref performed well at the dish. That didn’t happen in 2016.

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Injuries opened up playing time for Refsnyder, who eagerly tried answering the call to mold into a utility player. He learned first and third base on the fly (although he didn’t adapt to the hot corner as smoothly as hoped) and logged a handful of innings at second and right field, too.

Unfortunately for the 25-year-old, the disappearance of his bat accompanied the arrival of new fielding mitts. Offensive ineptitude curtailed his opportunities, as he was bounced between Triple-A and New York before dwindling into a seldom-used bench player.

Refsnyder hit a disappointing .250 (.274 vs. lefties) with a 73 OPS+ and no homers in 152 at-bats in his sophomore year.

His performance didn’t settle well within his conscious. A frustrated Refsnyder spoke with David Laurila of FanGraphs in September, and admitted he is preparing to remodel his playing style and work regimen to produce better results. Specifically, he wishes for his swing to mirror that of second basemen Brian Dozier and Daniel Murphy, and Red Sox star Mookie Betts. That trio combined for 98 bombs in ’16.

Here’s a healthy snippet of what Refsnyder had to say:

"“I’m going to try to hit home runs next year,” Refsnyder told Laurila. “I’ve had a lot of good conversations with people and I’m going to try to completely change my game … 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.”"

Refsnyder’s aspirations aren’t all too ludicrous. If there is any indication within his minor league stats that suggests he can perennially eclipse the double-digit homer mark, it’s his ’14 season. Of his three role models, only Betts topped 14 homers at any point in the minors.

One player’s progression isn’t guaranteed to pan out similarly for another. But, to believe Refsnyder is who he is at this point and cannot improve is an opinion built on circumstantial evidence.

The real question is, is it already too late to make an impact with the team that drafted him?

It’s unimaginable that Refsnyder pries a regular role at third base from Chase Headley, second from Starlin Castro, first from the recovering heir apparent Greg Bird, or right field from Aaron Judge. He won’t unseat utility man Ronald Torreyes, either, since Torreyes plays shortstop well.

Currently, Refsnyder’s only conceivable avenue onto the team is beating out Tyler Austin for a bench role. That, too, shall be no easy task considering Austin’s reemergence and late-season contributions.

Next: Encarnacion to the Yankees?

It’s going to take a similar recipe of injuries — and seizing those opportunities — for Rob Refsnyder to win manager Joe Girardi’s trust back. Although, given the club’s needs and packed 40-man roster, it’s possible he doesn’t make it to Spring Training a Yankee.

He would make a nice secondary or third-rate piece in a trade for a decent starting pitcher. But, if Ref is given another chance to carve his niche, it’ll be interesting to chart his attempts at evolving into a stronger presence at the plate. The Yankees have a fascinating collection of young players, and if he sticks around, Refsnyder could force himself back into the conversation.