Prior to Sunday’s game the Yankees announced that Rob Refsnyder was the major league camp’s latest casualty, as the infielder was optioned to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Until very recently, Refsnyder was seen by many as the favorite to win the competition for New York’s vacant backup infielder spot. Earlier in the spring, the team announced the plan to try and increase Refsnyder’s versatility by playing him at third base during Grapefruit League play. The early results were promising, as Refsnyder made all the routine plays and even the occasional exceptional one, including this slick around-the-horn double play in his first professional game at the position:
Things fell apart this weekend, however, as Refsnyder was forced to leave back to back games after being struck in the face by groundballs he misjudged. He made two errors in the tenth inning of Friday’s 11-10 loss to Baltimore, playing a major role in blowing their two run lead.
In the very next game against Toronto, Refsnyder was once again struck in the cheek by a misplayed grounder. The fact that all three plays came in close contests against division rivals certainly didn’t help matters, even in spring training.
For what it’s worth, Refsnyder didn’t help his cause with the stick in the last month either, batting .242/.286/.364 in 35 PAs. That’s not a completely terrible line, but a bat-first prospect trying to get his first crack at the majors needs to do better. He certainly didn’t force the Yankees’ hand offensively. The team will now choose between Pete Kozma or Ronald Torreyes for their remaining bench job. Torreyes is an interesting contact hitter with some speed, but given their recent track record, the role will likely go to Brendan Ryan clone Kozma. Neither of these choices offers the potential punch of Refsnyder. He has been a roughly four WARP player each of the last two seasons in the upper minors and PECOTA projects him to continue to hit if given a chance in the majors next season.
During the YES network broadcast of Sunday’s game, Joe Girardi told the booth that Refsnyder will continue to see time at third base in Triple-A. Refsnyder’s best chance at a major league job going forward remains earning the team’s backup infield job at some point. With Chase Headley earning $13 million annually through 2018 and four years $40 million remaining on Starlin Castro’s deal, the Yankees are locked into long term commitments at Refsnyder’s two potential positions. Refsnyder did play right field in college, but with Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Slade Heathcott, Ben Gamel, and Mason Williams all waiting in line behind the team’s starters, there are even fewer opportunities in the outfield. A trade is always a possibility if Refsnyder has a strong year with the RailRiders in 2016, but looking around the league, there are very few teams who currently have a glaring hole at second base. The depth that Refsnyder gives the Yankees is probably more valuable than anything another team would be willing to surrender in return.
Even without an obvious position, Refsnyder is an important asset for the team. Baseball Prospectus ranked him sixth on their list of Yankees prospects before the season with a grade of 45, a good utility player. During prospect listing season he was almost universally named one of the organization’s ten best minor leaguers, and some experts even peg him as more of a 50 value guy, making him a future average regular. Time will tell whether more reps at third base improve his feel for the position, but even as a second baseman/corner outfielder with a plus bat, the Yankees should find playing time for him sooner rather than later.