Robert Refsnyder has burst onto the scene as a Yankees prospect in 2014. A fifth-round draft pick in 2012 out of Arizona, where he was the College World Series MVP. He was a very good hitter in college, hitting .343/.409/.503 over his three year college career.
Refsnyder put himself on the draft map with a strong Cape Cod showing in 2011, hitting .308/.406/.436 for the Wareham Gatemen. He followed that up with a strong junior year, hitting .364/.453/.562, with 34 walks to 26 strikeouts. He was an outfielder in college, and there was concern that he wouldn't have the power to play in a corner outfield spot in pro ball, and he didn't have the range to play center field. This was a large part of a bat as good as Refsnyder's reaching the fifth round.
In Refsnyder's first taste of pro ball after being drafted, he struggled with the bat while playing right field for the Charleston Riverdogs, hitting only .241/.319/.364, with a 91 wRC+. This didn't help with the concerns about the bat holding up in a corner outfield spot. The Yankees decided to convert him to second base, to help his bat play up and give him more positional value.
In 2013, his bat exploded, and he hasn't looked back since. He hit .293/.413/.413 between Charleston and Tampa, two of the toughest parks to hit in in the minor leagues. He had a 173 wRC+ in his 62 PA in Charleston, and a 140 wRC+ in his 507 PA in High-A Tampa. His conversion to second base was still a project, but his athleticism gave the transition a good chance to succeed. In 2014, the defense has continued to get better, so that now he projects to be an adequate second baseman. And his bat has taken a huge step forward: .340/.408/.551, 166 wRC+ between AA Trenton and AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
So, how does he compare to other players at similar ages, as second basemen, with elite production? I decided to take a look. From 2006 to 2013, there have been 37 players with at least 240 AA plate appearances, and at least a 140 wRC+, at age 23 - marks that Refsnyder has matched this year. Twenty-nine of those players have made the major leagues so far, or over 78%, and two more are still playing in the minors this year at AA and AAA. Given the high failure rate of prospects, that is great news for Refsnyder's future. The average career fWAR for this group of players is 2.8, but again these are players who played in AA ball since 2006. The leader in fWAR among the group is Chase Headly, at 19.8. You can see the rest of the list below.
|Table One: Double-A players, 23 years old, min 240 PA, 140 wRC+ or higher since 2006|
One of my favorite statistical tools to look at players is actually a combination of two - ISO (how many extra bases per at bat a player gets) and BB/K ratio (shows a hitters ability to control the strike zone). In ranking the above players by ISO*(BB/K), Refsnyder would only rank 36th. Of those in the bottom five for ISO*(BB/K), only David Lough has made the major leagues, while 87.5% of the other 32 have. But, ranked by wRC+, Refsnyder is tied for 15th with Casper Wells. Only one player above him never made the majors, Ryan Strieby.
How about second basemen in AA with at least a 140 wRC+ and 240 PA? Of those 18 players, Refnsyder would rank 9th in wRC+ - everyone higher than him has made the majors. He also would be second to last in ISO*(BB/K). This group does include second basemen of any age, inluding a 30 year old Eric Riggs. However, 83.3% of these players made the major leagues, an even higher rate than the 23 year old sub-population. You can see this group of players below.
|Table Two: Double-A second basemen, min 240 PA, 140 wRC+ or higher since 2006|
|Tommy La Stella||2013||24||323||11.5%||10.5%||1.09||0.343||0.422||0.473||0.896||0.131||163||0.143||0.7|
Finally, I wanted to look at second basemen, age 23 in AAA with at least 100 PA and a 100 wRC+ or higher. Now 100 plate appearances is definitely a small sample, but it is what we have to work with right now. Surprisingly, there are only 21 players between 2006 and 2013 that match this criteria. Of those, all but one of them have made the major leagues, or over 95%. That group has averaged 3 fWAR in their young career, led by Martin Prado with 17.2 fWAR. Ranked against this group, Refsnyder would be first in wRC+, and third in ISO*(BB/K), behind only Alberto Callaspo and Dustin Ackley. As a group, this is an impressive bunch, and should excite Yankees fans. What this group of players shows, is that if you can make AAA for at least 100 PA as a 23 year old second basemen, you will play in the big leagues, and have a good chance to become an above-average player. You can see the entire table below.
|Table Three: 23 Year Old Second Basemen, min 100 PA in AAA since 2006|
For me, Refsnyder is probably in the 70-80 range right now, but if he continues to do what he's done through the end of the season, a spot in the top 50 is reasonable. Among Yankees prospects, he is third, behind Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez. If Sanchez doesn't turn things around, both performance and makeup-wise, I could see Refsnyder pass him by the end of the season.
So, what do you think? Is Rob Refsnyder a legitimate prospect? Where would he fit on a top 100 list for you? Where would he rank among Yankees prospects for you?