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The Lowdown on Rob Refsnyder

With Stephen Drew hitting .181/.257/.374 at second base this season, many—if not most—Yankees fans have been pining to see Rob Refsnyder in the Bronx. There has been quite a bit of transfer between PNC Field in Scranton and Yankee Stadium throughout the first half of the season, but despite his strong performance for the RailRiders, he hasn’t been called up—until now.

Refsnyder had a banner season last year between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, hitting .318/.387/.497 with 14 home runs, 63 RBI and 82 runs. Refsnyder began the season slowly, hitting just .259/.302/.333 in 86 April plate appearances, but has been on a tear ever since, hitting .301/.413/.441 since the beginning of May. All 7 of Refsnyder’s home runs have come since then.

Donnie Collins, RailRiders beat writer for the Scranton Times-Tribune, has said that Refsnyder’s turnaround came from a changed approach.

“[He’s] really trying to drive the inside pitch,” Collins said. “Earlier in the year, [he was] almost taking a Jeter approach. Everything was up the middle/opposite way. Lately, he has been trying to pull the ball, and that is why you’re seeing home runs.”

This can be seen in this swing from June, as opposed to some of the hits seen in this video from last season:

Refsnyder has also improved his batting eye since last year. In his 77-game stint in Scranton last season, he struck out in 20% of his plate appearances. This year, he’s only struck out in 12% of his plate appearances. Refsnyder has been swinging at 2% fewer pitches, but he’s making contact with 87% of pitches as opposed to 82% last season. Refsnyder’s walk rate has held steady since last season at 12%.

Refnsyder’s offensive performance at AAA this season, as a whole, has been comparable to his performance there last season, and since May, it’s undoubtedly been better. It could also be argued that Refsnyder’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) from last season was too high at .364, which means he got lucky quite often and his statistics were better than his true talent level. This season, the second baseman’s BABIP has been .320, which is a more normal level, meaning what we’ve seen from Refsnyder in 2015 is likely what he’s capable of producing at the AAA level. This means that he could have improved a lot since last season than the numbers actually show at first glance. Refsnyder has also been hitting more line drives this season.

Refsnyder’s defense has been another area upon which he has improved in 2015.

“Lately, he has been able to glove some of the slower choppers up the middle,” according to Collins. “Wouldn’t have in ’14.”

At first glance, Refsnyder’s defense looks like it has taken a step back, as he’s already made 13 errors after making only 12 in all of 2014. However, he’s made up for it with improved range, as Baseball Prospectus has him worth 4.2 fielding runs above average (FRAA), whereas he was worth -5.9 FRAA last season. Defensive statistics can be hit-or-miss, but Collins corroborates this.

“[He] seemed to have some issues in spring training with new techniques he was being taught. [He] said he was focused on them more than he was on just going after the ball [and] being aggressive,” Collins said. Refsnyder has gotten back to his old approach, and that has worked for him. Only two of those errors have come since the beginning of June.

While his defense is still rated as slightly below average by Baseball Prospectus scout Al Skorupa, he has the ability to make a tough play and has an accurate arm, according to Skorupa’s report.

While he hasn’t gotten faster, Refsnyder has been more successful on the base paths, stealing 10 bases on 11 tries, whereas he stole 9 bases in 18 attempts all of last season. “It’s more confidence, better decisions, things like that,” Collins said when asked about Refsnyder’s baserunning improvements. “And he’s just a more aggressive player all around.” Skorupa’s scouting report also speaks of his high baseball I.Q. While Skorupa doesn’t see Refsnyder as much of a threat on the basepaths against major league catchers, Skorupa notes that he “can take one here and there if pitcher forgets about him.” It’s good to know that the 24-year-old knows what he’s doing when he gets on base.

Refsnyder most likely won’t become the next Robinson Cano. Most of Refsnyder’s tools grade around average at the major league level, with the notable exception being his hitting. Refsnyder has the ability to hit for a batting average at least 100 points over that of Stephen Drew. He knows how to work a walk, too. In today’s offensive environment, that is an invaluable asset.