Monday, December 22, 2014

Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela for Yankees’ second baseman?

Let’s assume that the New York Yankees are serious about having Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela battle it out in spring training to become the team's next starting second baseman. Who is better suited for the position if they both have reasonably similar spring performances?

Refsnyder comes with the prospect tag, ranking #6 on’s top 20 Yankees' minor leaguers, while Pirela has done nothing but impress and steadily move himself along the organization, even breaching the big leagues last September.

At the plate, both Refsnyder and Pirela have been productive. Refsnyder slashed .300/.389/.456 with 19 doubles, eight homers and 33 RBIs in 333 plate appearances with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. He has a career slash of .297/.389/.444 in just over 1,300 minor league plate appearances. Refsynder is not a threat on the bases.

Pirela, in 581 plate appearances at Scranton in 2014, slashed .305/.351/.441 with  20 doubles, 11 triples and 10 home runs. He drove in 60 runs and scored 87. Pirela added 15 stolen bases (caught seven times). Across just under 3,500 plate appearances in the minors, Pirela owns a reasonable .273/.339/.391 line, though he’s had OPS marks of .804, .771 and .792 the last three seasons showing consistency and improvement compared with his first few seasons in the minors.

Per Steamer’s projections via FanGraphs, Refsnyder’s anticipated slash across 393 PA is .262/.328/.390 with eight HR and 1.7 fWAR, while Pirela’s estimate over 230 plate appearances is .259/.307/.381 with 4 home runs and 0.7 fWAR.

Refsnyder is still a work in progress at second base, and Pirela has more versatility in the field (he played 6 positions for SWB in 2014). It’s that versatility that could earn Pirela a spot in Triple-A, waiting for the first injury to beset the Yankees' infield. The Yankees' bench, barring any future moves, is set with Brendan Ryan, Garrett Jones, Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy. There doesn’t seem to be a spot for Pirela at the moment other than as the starting second baseman.

It’s hard to see Pirela doing so unless Refsynder is severely overmatched at the plate, or shows a genuine inability to man the keystone. Refsnyder was cemented to second base (he was a former outfielder) once Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners last season with the thought that the soon to be 24-year-old would one day be the Yankees starting second baseman. That time might have come.

Pirela would be at the ready if any of the position players go down (other than one of the catchers), or if Refsnyder experiences significant growing pains upon making the team. I don’t expect Refsnyder’s progress to slow. There isn't much in his profile which suggests he will.

Refsynder has excelled at each stop along the way and while he might not become a premier hitter like Cano, he could provide the Yankees with steady offense to offset any immediate fielding issues, and continue to grow into a better all-around player as time goes on.

So, it seems that trading Martin Prado and gaining Jones might have cost Pirela a utility spot and earned Refsynder a leg up on the second base job. It will be a very interesting spring training battle, one in which I expect Refsynder to lay claim to the role and not look back.

Photo courtesy of Tom Hagerty via Flickr.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer and sports media strategist. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.