The production from the Yankees infield has left a lot to be desired this season, particularly from second base, where the corpse of Brian Roberts has gotten the lion’s share of the playing time. Through 203 plate appearances, the 36-year-old has only mustered a .239/.317/.350 batting line, and has clearly lost a step on defense. Backup infielder Kelly Johnson has been just as underwhelming, hitting just .216/.279/.392. It’s a little hard to envision the Yankees sniffing October baseball with their current collection of infielders, especially if Yangervis Solarte falls back to earth at some point. The Yankees will almost certainly be in the market for infield help as we get closer to the July 31st trade deadline, but some possible solutions to the infield problem might be right under the Yankees’ nose.
Little-known infielder Jose Pirela is slashing .326/.365/.458 in 246 plate appearances with triple-A Scranton, while seeing time at first, second, shortstop, and the outfield. Pirela’s no star, but he’s the type of guy who could be useful in a utility infielder role, seeing as he can play all over the diamond. He also on the speedy side, which would come in handy as a pinch runner off the bench. Frankly, it’s hard to argue he wouldn’t be more useful than Kelly Johnson at this point — even if Johnson might be the slightly better hitter.
The Yankees recently announced that 23-year-old Rob Refsnyder has been promoted to triple-A Scranton after a torrid start to the year in double-A. Refsnyder first started turning heads after a .293/.413/.413 performance in A-ball last season, and has stepped up his game even further this year by hitting .342/.385/.548 in double-A Trenton. Refsnyder’s performance bump seems to have been spurred by a more aggressive approach, as he’s traded in walks for power this year — especially in the last couple of months. This type of change in strategy has worked pretty well for Brett Gardner over the last couple of years and has been paying huge dividends for Refsnyder so far.
It’s hard to say what Refsnyder will be going forward — especially given the variations in his walk and power numbers. But he’s definitely earned the opportunity to show what he can do against more polished pitching in triple-A. He may not stay there for very long though. If he’s able to continue hitting, he could push for a big league call up sooner rather than later. The Brian Roberts experiment has failed and the Yankees should at least see what they have in Refsnyder.
The Yankees should still be perusing the trade market for an infielder, but should also give their in-house options the opportunity to show what they can do. Refsnyder and Pirela are far from sure bets. Both put up solid numbers last season, but are hitting far better than anyone could have expected here in 2014. Odds are neither performs much differently that Roberts or Johnson, but there’s at least a chance the Yankees could catch lightning in a bottle like they did with Yangervis Solarte this spring.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs