Ranking the New York Yankees Second Base Options Post-Moncada
Yesterday, word got out that the Red Sox, not the Yankees, were spending the big bucks on Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada.
Moncada seemed like the perfect fit for the Yankees organization. He only cost money, and the Yankees are notoriously the richest team in sports. He can play virtually any position on the diamond, and at the position where he fit best, second base, New York has had a gaping ever since Robinson Cano left last offseason.
Now, fans are beginning to question the Steinbrenner’s commitment to winning, something that would never have happened under the ownership of “The Boss”.
Maybe, however, the Yankees unwillingness to pay too much for Moncada was not due to finances, but more to the fact that they have faith in their in-house options at second base.
For the first time since the debut of Brett Gardner, the New York has two legitimate positional prospects, Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela, at a position of need who should contribute to big club in the immediate future. Furthermore, the team also brought back Stephen Drew on a one-year deal, and he should be in the mix as well.
The two minor league players absolutely destroyed Triple-A pitching last year, and one even earned a call-up to the Bronx late last season. Drew, though he struggled in 2014, brings a veteran pedigree and elite defense, both things that old-school manager Joe Girardi values highly.
The Yankees rarely give prospects a chance to win starting jobs in Spring Training. So, with these three players in mind, let’s try to relish this new youth movement that’s hit New York, and decide which player makes the most sense right now and in the future.
Drafted in the 5th round of the 2012 Draft, Rob Refsnyder has generated a lot of buzz after tearing apart Double-A and Triple-A last season at just 23 years of age. Across 137 games and 577 at-bats in 2014, the Californian slashed a .318/.387/.497 line, including 38 doubles and 14 home runs en route to being named a Yankees’ Organizational All Star. Offensively, Refsnyder has nothing left to prove in the minors. He does, however, need to improve his defense to be a legitimate major league starter. The former college outfielder made 36 errors at second in 2014.
With strong hands and a relatively quick bat, most scouts see Refsnyder developing into an average to solid-average player at maturity. He also can run and hit the gaps, as he has the potential to steal upwards of ten bags and post 25+ doubles over the course of a full season.
He won’t provide many long balls at the next level, as more than 73 percent of balls he put in play last season resulted in either a ground ball or line drive. Still, he could clear the fence a dozen times in a full season, which would put him in the top-fourth of major league second baseman.
Refsnyder’s high 2014 BABIP (.386 in Double-A, .360 in Triple-A) seems to indicate that luck played a significant role in his success. However, Refnsyder hit more grounders than he did line drives and fly balls combined, and ground ball hitters regularly post above-average BABIPs. Plus, his 2014 mark sat only about 10 points higher than his career average.
If you still aren’t convinced that Refsnyder can be a major league second baseman, let me give you one final stat. During his first three pro seasons, ’Ref has batted over .300 against MLB Top 20 prospects, proving he can succeed against the minor league’s top talent.
The other young man pursuing the second base job is the versatile Jose Pirela. Pirela spent the entire 2014 season in the Triple-A scranton, save for a six game cup of coffee in the Bronx. And quite frankly, he was one of the International League’s best hitters last season. He finished the year fifth in runs scored, third in hits, and he led the circuit with a career-high 11 triples.
Although 2014 was a breakout season, Pirela has enjoyed similar success throughout his entire minor league career. Over nearly 4,000 professional at-bats, he has batted over .270 and posted a career .741 OPS. Like Refsnyder, he’s also enjoyed success against the minor’s top pitchers, batting .303 against MLB Top 20 prospects in his MiLB career.
Pirela himself has never been regarded as a top prospect, but he still has an interesting array of tools. He has a quiet stance, a quick bat, and truly explosive hands. His speed also grades out as an average or better tool. He should be able to swipe double digits bags over a full major league season, maybe even reaching 20 steals at his peak.
Pirela’s best attribute is his versatility. The Venezuelan has played every position on the diamond in his minor league career and played six positions in 2014 alone.
Typically, the Yankees use a revolving door of so-called “Four-A players” as super-utility men, with Zoilo Almonte, Zealous Wheeler, David Adams, and other no-names seeing big league time over the last few seasons due to injuries, ineffectiveness, or trades. An old, injury-prone Yankees squad certainly needs to have that flexibility, but Pirela could be a real asset as a utility player who can adequately play the field and hit.
Jose Pirela could develop into the next Omar Infante. And he’ll get every chance to show he belongs this spring.
Yes, the are Yankees trying to eradicate their typical cynical view of younger players. Still, however, the favorite in this competition may be the wily vet Stephen Drew.
We all know about 31-year-old’s struggles with the bat last season: he batted just .150 in the Bronx and .162 overall in 2014. Nevertheless, despite his offensive woes, Drew is one of the best defenders on the entire Yankees roster. He has the ability to not only capably defend second base, but also fill in at shortstop and third if necessary.
This versatility (and the recent five million dollar contract he signed with the ‘Yanks this offseason) nearly guarantees him a roster spot, and gives him a significant leg up in the competition for the starting job. However, the days have past where the Yankees simply hand out jobs to underperforming veterans: no doubt does the front office want to avoid another Brian Roberts situation this year.
Drew, like the rest of the Yankees lineup, has a lot of boom or bust potential. Just two years ago, he a slashed .253/.333./.443 line and drove in 67 RBI, helping the Red Sox claim their third World Series title in the past decade. He doesn’t need to replicate those stats to earn a starting job with the Yankees, but he will need to keep his batting average above .250 and drive in some runs at the bottom of the lineup. However, if Pirela catches fire in a bench role and Refsnyder makes easy work of Triple-A pitching for the second straight year, Drew’s job is as good as gone by midseason if he cannot return to his 2013 form.
Given their investment and Drew’s major league track record, I suspect the Yankees will give the 31-year-old infielder the second base job, at least to start the 2015 season. Pirela should make the team as the super-utility man even if he loses the starting gig, while Refsnyder is likely ticketed to open the season back in Scranton. However, if the Yankees find themselves out of contention by midseason or Drew struggles again in the Bronx, expect one of the youngsters to take over the starting role.
But if the Yankees are in contention come midseason, Joe Girardi will likely stick with the veteran Drew even if he is struggling. Having a seasoned vet in a playoff-bound clubhouse is far more important than developing players, and rarely do the Yankees entrust their playoff hopes to unproven talent.
In fact, I would not be surprised if the team sticks Refsnyder in Triple-A, he picks up where he left off in 2014, and Brian Cashman deals him to a rebuilding team for more veteran help at the trade deadline. I hope that’s not the case, as there is an exciting wave of young talent coming up the Yankee pipeline, but it is a well-known fact that the Bronx Bombers will do whatever it takes to win as soon as possible.
Lastly, don’t discount the importance of the Yankees’ games this spring. Remember, just a year ago the unheralded minor league free agent Yangervis Solarte earned a roster spot after tearing apart the Grapefruit league. If a real prospect like Refsnyder or Pirela enjoys similar spring success, they will drastically improve their chances of breaking camp with the big club .
Advanced minor league statistics provided via MLBfarm.com and Baseball-Reference.com
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