As you might have heard, Rob Refsnyder is in the process of transitioning to third base. He's been spending time working out there and will make his debut on Sunday morning in an actual live game. The Yankees weren't comfortable with his fielding at second base, but they remain comfortable with his bat. By moving him to third base, they're hoping that he can find his way onto the team as a backup third baseman and as a utility player off the bench. It's just that no one should be holding out hope for something miraculous to happen at this point.
I like Refsnyder, I've always liked him, and I hope he finds a way to get major league at-bats, but I've come to understand just how little the Yankees trust him in the field. The Yankees have valued infield defense with Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley acquired for their solid gloves, but Refsnyder would have been the odd man out if given the opportunity. They specifically traded for Starlin Castro because they determined that he just wasn't good enough.
The main reason you shouldn't be too hopeful about this transition is really that it's just hard to do. To play third base you need quick reaction time to go after line drives off the bat–they don't call it the hot corner for nothing. You also need a strong enough arm to get the ball to first base. Before they traded him away in the offseason as part of the package for Aroldis Chapman, it was mostly assumed that Eric Jagielo would not be a major league third baseman down the line. MLB.com rated his arm as a 50 on the 20-80 scale, which is average, and they scored him as a 40 fielder, which is below average. Rob Refsnyder was given the exact same grades as a second baseman.
If you weren't worried about his ability to throw the baseball, let the proof set you free:
nah you're right, I totally shouldn't be worried about Ref's defense when he's making throws like thispic.twitter.com/6ZyG5P6MBo— Andrew Mearns (@MearnsPSA) March 5, 2016
Here he is again practicing at third base. The ball just made it:
Rob Refsnyder fields a bunt at third base #yankees pic.twitter.com/YhcYmVYX9r— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) February 28, 2016
Moving Refsnyder to a position that requires more arm strength and faster reflexes is just going to create an even worse third baseman. His own coaches think the conversion will be difficult. When asked recently which position change will be harder for him to handle, infield instructor Joe Espada believed that second base to third base is a more difficult transition than going from outfield to second–a conversion Refsnyder wasn't really able to handle well enough in the end.
I think going from second to third (is harder). If you're pretty good in the outfield, it's still a challenge, but at least you're up in the middle of the field. But now he goes to third, and you also have to think about shifts and the way our defense works. It's a lot of moving parts. It brings its challenges.
Obviously, no position change will ever be easy, but his own coach is saying the transition he already tried to make was nothing compared to the transition they are asking him to make right now. They didn't even give Refsnyder the courtesy of a heads up during the offseason. When he entered camp, he had no idea the Yankees wanted him to try his hand at third base. It's not like that would have made a world of difference, but a player who clearly can't play second base well enough could use all the time to work at a new position as he can get.
If the Yankees are trying to turn Refsnyder into a utility player, he doesn't really need to be incredible at any of the positions he plays. He's probably passable at second base, can be useful in the outfield, and could play at third base in case of an emergency, but don't expect him to become a third baseman now. Even with added versatility, Refsnyder really doesn't have much role on this roster. If Castro can play decently at third base, and Dustin Ackley remains the top backup second baseman, Refsnyder is completely boxed out.
Maybe it doesn't happen this year, but it would seem that his best chance going forward is to hope for a trade, where some other team will allow him to fake it at second. The Yankees are trying, but they really don't have much need for him at this point. Don't get your hopes up.