Go down the rabbit hole of Yankees coverage from 2013 to 2015, and you’ll find, for the most part, a cesspit. A lot of it would be filled with gossip regarding the activities of Alex Rodriguez, but a lot as well would cover the end of the Core Four. With the last of the Yankees’ dynasty vanguard exiting off the stage, the question was: who’s next?
In 2014, not knowing what would visit us two years later, people really thought the answer was Rob Refsnyder. If you think about the circumstances, it wasn’t a crazy proposition. On June 6, 2014, as of this Pinstripe Alley article, Refsnyder was hitting .327/.371/.539 at Double-A, and the only other infield prospect of note was Jose Pirela, who is now trying to crack the big leagues in San Diego.
On the other hand, as of that same article, Brian Roberts, the second baseman du jour, was hitting .236/.309/.345 in the absolute twilight of his career. So, there was an argument to be made. Calls got even louder when the Yankees picked up Stephen Drew, who was also abysmal. Just, for a second, think about the headlines that popped up in the Yankees blogosphere while Refsnyder loomed:
- John Harper, New York Daily News, 7/8/2014: “Yankees minor league prospect Rob Refsnyder has potential - and patience”
- Jason Bartel, AZ Deserts Swarm, 7/31/2014: “How Robert Refsnyder has become a top prospect for the New York Yankees”
- Doug Williams, YES Network, 10/23/2014: “Why Robert Refsnyder should be the Yankees' second baseman in 2015”
- Wayne Coffey, New York Daily News, 2/8/2015: “He'll make you believe: Rob Refsnyder just may be the Yankees' solution at second base”
- Ryan Hatch, NJ.com, 7/18/2015: “Has Rob Refsnyder replaced Stephen Drew as Yankees' full-time 2nd baseman?”
And here we are, years later, and Refsnyder was designated for assignment and then traded for Ryan McBroom to the Blue Jays. In the end, he hit just .241/.312/.332 in his Yankees career, and never really found his place on the roster. He wasn’t good enough defensively to earn a position outright, and he didn’t have a good enough bat to warrant squeezing him in at an unnatural position.
What I think Refsnyder was victim of, frankly, is a shift in the way Yankees fans and the media saw prospects. Think about where we are now. The Yankees are absolutely loaded with prospects for the first time, and they have players currently on the big league roster who were Yankees homegrown prospects. Other than Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner, the Yankees had not produced a successful position player internally since the Core Four era.
Even in the dynasty era, views on Yankees prospects was distinctly different. Rule number one is that the Yankees need to preserve their prospects, no matter who they are. Rule number two is that many prospects fail, because many Yankees prospects fail. These are two contradictory claims, and they largely existed in Yankees fandom and in the press because the team just didn’t really have top prospects at all. If you go back to 1995, you have: Derek Jeter, Drew Henson, Ruben Rivera, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Jesus Montero.
That’s... about it. So whenever a player came up through the system, no matter their actual scouting report, fans and the media demanded they be called up because, well, there wasn’t much else to choose from. Clamoring comes from scarcity, and scarcity is over.
I can’t say how long this prospect prosperity lasts. My guess is that not too long; just six years ago the Royals had arguably the best farm system of the past thirty years. The well has since run dry. At the very least, though, New York fans and the media have learned that there’s a distinct difference between a random player raking and a top prospect gliding through the system.
We know what the difference looks like. Rob Refsnyder was never a top prospect, yet had the hopes of one thrust upon him for variables beyond his control. I feel bad that he never got a full chance to prove himself, but I’m sure he’ll get his time in the big leagues to either figure it out, or not. We may not have the player we were desperate for in 2014, but we’ll always have the hope he would be. In that way, he was a top prospect.