Scranton-Wilkes Barre Railriders second baseman Rob Refsnyder started the 2014 season 5-for-35 with the Double-A Trenton Thunder. Though he felt comfortable at the plate, he was out of sync, chasing pitches that he usually didn't.
"He was thinking too much," Thames said. "Anytime you start doing that, your mechanics are going to break down. I told him to just relax."
Once Refsnyder did, he was able to hone in on the issue.
“I did an overhaul of my swing,” Refsnyder said. "I was too rotational, covering the outer half of the plate with my upper body and losing my posture. He stood me more upright so that I could get a direct pass at the ball.
“I don’t feel like anything [special in terms of being in a zone] at the plate. I’m just trying to be on time with my swing and to get a good pitch to hit.“
With that adjustment in place, Refsnyder got back to being the hitter that earned him College World Series MVP honors at Arizona and made him the Yankees' fifth-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. And the success has carried through for 2 1/2 months.
Refsnyder, who didn’t rank among the Yankees' top-10 prospects at the start of the year (despite an on-base percentage of over .400 in Single-A last season), has played his way into a potential recall in the near future. He’s hitting .343, including .348 at Triple-A. He's hitting .420 in his last 38 games, which is why Yankees general manager Brian Cashman indicated Refsnyder is closing in on a recall.
“I said to him the other day ‘I knew you were good, but I didn’t know you were this good,” said Scranton hitting coach (and former Yankees catcher in the mid-80s) Butch Wynegar. “He’s intelligent, he’s a hard worker and he makes adjustments pitch to pitch. He’s short and quick with his swing. He’s really coachable. He does a lot of things I’m very impressed with. He’s bigger than Dustin Pedroia, but he plays the game like Pedroia does. If I was asked, I would say yes, (he’s major-league ready). I see no reason why he’s not going to be a good major-league hitter.”
Thames compared his approach at the plate to that of Placido Polanco, who was known for battling at-bats while a teammate of Thames with the Detroit Tigers.
The ZiPS projection system devised by Dan Szymborski to predict future performance projects a .247/.324/.373 rest-of-season slashline, with five home runs and 21 extra-base hits in 262 at-bats, with seven steals in 10 attempts, if he was recalled this week. That would be an offensive upgrade for a team that has struggled to get much out of the position this season.
The one thing that will be a question mark will be how Refsnyder handles second base defensively. He made the switch from right field (which he played in college and his first year in the minors) last season and made 25 errors split between Class-A Charleston and Tampa.
Refsnyder is still getting used to things such as being a cutoff man and positioning within the many defensive shifts that are taught throughout the Yankees organization.
“It was a rough process early on, but he’s made phenomenal improvements in the last year,” said Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, who oversees the team’s farm system. “He’s made a significant leap in his ability to turn the double play. He really works at it. [In converting him] we thought he might be able to do it defensively and then his bat would be exceptional for the position.”
Refsnyder made it a point to say “you can always get better” and deftly deflected away most other attempts to praise his performance.
“I’m just pleased that I’m healthy,” he said. “It’s a long season. It’s a grind and I’m just grinding it out.”