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Refsnyder Developing Into Important Piece of Yankees Future

by Matt Kardos | Posted on Saturday, June 7th, 2014

(TRENTON, NJ) The New York Yankees opted to let all-star Robinson Cano walk to the Seattle Mariners for greener dollars this past winter. In doing so, the organization was left without an immediate in-house option to fill the glaring void left by Cano at second base. General Manager Brian Cashman went out this offseason and invested a historic amount of money into his payroll but neglected to secure a reliable second baseman in the process. The position appears to be ripe for the taking and Trenton Thunder second baseman Rob Refsnyder has made it clear that he is playing for a spot in the Bronx.

The 23-year old Refsnyder had a heralded collegiate career at the University of Arizona where he was a vital piece in helping the Wildcats hoist the 2012 College World Series trophy. After batting .476 in the tournament, Refsnyder was honored as the College World Series Most Outstanding Player that summer. The Yankees drafted Refsnyder in the fifth-round of the draft (187th overall) that June and inked him to a deal with  a $205,900 signing-bonus a few weeks later.

Rob Refsnyder was the 2012 College World Series Most Outstanding Player

Rob Refsnyder was the 2012 College World Series Most Outstanding Player

By trade, Refsnyder was an outfielder in college but the Yankees profiled the Laguna Hills, California native as a second baseman. In the early stages of his professional career, the learning curve that coincides with adapting to a new position has been steep for Refsnyder, but his continued development offensively has eased the transition for him. In his third season with the franchise, his first in Double-A, Refsnyder has hit a robust  .332 with six homers, 30 RBI and 30 extra-base-hits for Trenton.

“Obviously, I feel pretty good,” said Refsnyder. “I’m trying to focus on swinging at a pitch that I can drive; I’m honing in on my strengths and laying off of my weaknesses.”

Refsnyder, the reigning Eastern League Player of the Week, is currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, 10 of which were multi-hit efforts. After a sluggish start in April when he hit just .267, Refsnyder made necessary adjustments to his approach and mechanics and has reaped the benefits by putting the Eastern League on notice to the tune of a .354 average in May and has carried it over into June with a .500 mark in five games this month.

“He has come on really, really well,” said Thunder Manager Tony Franklin. “Like most young players, it takes them time to make adjustments because they have been playing for so long but once you get to this level, you start to find out that guys are pretty good and they can counteract anything that you do if you don’t make adjustments.”

Franklin added, “Rob has made those adjustments that he and Marcus [Thames] talked about and he has turned it around and he is swinging really, really well. It’s quite impressive.”

Refsnyder says that the biggest adjustment that he has made since his arrival in Trenton is his path to the ball. He believes that he was getting under the ball a lot earlier in the season which induced fly-outs rather than the line-drives that he is looking for.

“My swing path was a little off earlier in the year,” admitted Refsnyder. “I was getting under the ball, but I cleaned that up with Marcus and our hitting instructor came in; just a lot of hard-work, honestly. It is right where I want to be and hopefully with a lot of maintenance. I will stay like this all year.”

Refsnyder added,” Cleaning up my swing path definitely helped; swinging a little bit more down and direct at the ball to give me a more true flight on the ball instead of a natural fading to the right side.”

Like many of the young hitters on the Thunder roster, Refsnyder has put in an extraordinary amount of extra-work with Hitting Coach, Marcus Thames.  A former nine-year big-league veteran with the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers and Rangers, Thames is in his first season with the Thunder after serving in the same role for High-A Tampa in 2013 which allowed him to establish a

Refsnyder is riding an 11-game hitting streak.

Refsnyder is riding an 11-game hitting streak.

strong working relationship with Refsnyder.

“He has been swinging at good pitches,” explained Thames. “Earlier in the season, he was chasing balls in and off of the plate and that isn’t in his repertoire. I have never seen him chase as many pitches as he was earlier in the season.”

Thames added, “He is a hard-worker, he has been that way since he was at Arizona. He is a smart baseball player and he wants it. He grinds every at-bat, he has been solid and I’m really happy with where he is at. When you get moved up to a new level, you want to show people that you can play. He has always hit, he hit in college, he hit in Charleston, he hit in Tampa. He is a smart guy, he studies video; he can’t try to do too much or try to impress people, he just has to be Rob Refsnyder.”

The bulk of the work that Refsnyder has put in this season has been on defense and getting accustomed to playing second base at a high level. Converting from a corner outfielder position to the middle infield is hard enough, but adapting to playing the defensive shifts that the Yankees employ makes it all the more difficult to grasp. Refsnyder has struggled in that area; he has committed a team-high nine errors in 2014 and  has made 34 errors in just 164 career games,  which is slightly less than one per every five games played.

“Error wise, I have a few more than I would like,” said Refsnyder. “I don’t think you should really judge a defensive player by errors. I think it is more of a defensive player being uncomfortable with positioning and things like that. If I am all the way over to the right side of second base and there are a couple of hard plays to my left that are usually routine but now I have to get over there and make a tough play and you get an error.”

The positioning that Refsnyder is alluding to is when he is summoned into a defensive shift that essentially takes him out of his ordinary comfort zone and forces him into foreign territory behind the bag, shaded towards the shortstop position. Refsnyder has made no secret about his feelings towards these unorthodox alignments.

“It looks stupid when a routine ball gets through the hole, it looks incredibly stupid, almost embarrassing at times,” said Refsnyder. “But, that is what our shift is doing and that is what our organization feels is best.”

Refsnyder added,” Whatever the organization thinks is best is what we are going to do but I would be sitting here and lying to you if I didn’t say that sometimes I feel stupid when. ball goes through those holes and people look at me; pitchers get upset when plays like that happen and I can completely understand. At the end of the day, that is what we are going with and I am comfortable with it.”

Refsnyder continues to work diligently on improving his defense.

Refsnyder continues to work diligently on improving his defense.

There is little doubt within the organization that the offensive ability of Refsnyder is there and will continue to blossom as he continues to develop in the minor leagues upper-levels. How quickly he makes it to the Bronx will likely hinge on how he progresses as a defender at second base. With little talent at the position anywhere else in the farm system and a thin free-agent market on the horizon, Refsnyder could very well be a huge cog in the Yankees future, sooner rather than later.

“Rob is a leader,” Thames said. “He comes to the dugout and he is ready to play, he gets all of the guys going. I tell him to just keep grinding and to stay even keel. Whether he has a bad game or a good game, he just needs to stay on one level. He is working hard on his defense; he wants it, he wants to be good. He wants to get out of here and play in New York.”

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