Our depth chart series continues today at second base. In the past couple of weeks, I did a high-level analysis of the Yankees’ catchers and first baseman. Now, on to the 4 position in your scorecard.
Starter: Stephen Drew
2014 was not a good season for Stephen Drew. In 300 trips to the plate, he hit an abysmal .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+). That’s…just awful. So bad, that it was actually the worst performance (per wRC+) in the majors last season, minimum 300 plate appearances. Nonetheless, the Yankees retained Drew for one more season at a $5M salary to be the starting second baseman. In all likelihood, Drew isn’t as terrible as he was last year. After all, he’s a season removed from a 109 wRC+ with the 2013 Red Sox.
Steamer foresees an 84 wRC+ this season, with above average glovework at the keystone. Unless Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela absolutely annihilate Triple-A pitching, I think the Yankees would tolerate that kind of performance from Drew. A repeat of 2014, though, would probably cost Drew his job quickly. His salary isn’t large enough that the Yankees should feel obligated to run him out there for a full season.
Backup: Brendan Ryan
Ryan is the favorite to win the utility role out of Spring Training given his veteran status, but there’s a chance the Yankees try to pass him through waivers and send him to Triple-A. He’s got $3M guaranteed through 2016 (if you assume his club option is declined and Ryan subsequently exercises his player option), which isn’t a lot of money, but I don’t think a team would claim a replacement level player like Ryan at that cost. Ryan probably wouldn’t elect free agency after clearing waivers because he’d be forfeiting money he couldn’t get elsewhere. The point is that the Yankees aren’t necessarily locked in to Ryan as the backup, should someone like Jose Pirela prove to be more valuable in the Bronx than Scranton. Ryan’s a defensive wizard, but he really might be a wasted roster spot because (1) the Yankees don’t really need a defensive replacement with a diamond consisting of Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, Stephen Drew, and Mark Teixeira, and (2) he should never, ever, ever hit.
On the fringe: Jose Pirela, Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa
In this group, Pirela is the only player on the 40-man roster. Pirela, 25, raked in 581 plate appearances in Triple-A last season (117 wRC+), and had a nice stint with the Yankees at the end of the year. Chris pegged him as the Yankees’ 32nd best prospect (see the Top 100 here), and KATOH foresees 3 WAR through age 28. That sounds like the makings of a utility player, although he can’t really play shortstop and is just “okay” at second base, according to Fangraphs’ lead prospect writer Kiley McDaniel. In the same piece, McDaniel notes that scouts see him more as a 25th man on the roster type. Compared to Ryan, Pirela is certainly better with the bat, but pales in comparison defensively. Given the Yankees needs, Pirela might be more useful, so he’s not necessarily ticketed to Scranton all else being equal.
Noonan and Figueroa were inked to minor-league pacts this offseason, and although the Yankees haven’t released their Spring Training non-roster invitees yet, expect them to be part of the group. Noonan was once one of the Giants better prospects, peaking at 5th best in the organization in 2008 per Baseball America. Figueroa was previously a fringy prospect with the Padres, ranking 28th in their 2008 system. Barring an emergency, both will serve as Triple-A fodder this year.
The future: Rob Refsnyder
For a short while, after trading Martin Prado, it looked like the Yankees were prepared to enter 2015 with Refnsyder (or Pirela) as the starting second baseman. After re-signing Drew, Refsnyder will get more seasoning in Triple-A. Our site’s 7th-best Yankees prospect, Refsnyder hit a superb .318/.387/.497 (146+), putting himself in the picture as the Yankees second baseman of the future.
KATOH forecasts the 23 year-old to be worth 5 WAR through his age-28 season, and is cautiously optimistic that he could be worth 8 WAR by that time (22% chance). Steamer already believes Refsnyder to be a roughly league average (98 wRC+ forecast, 2.1 WAR prorated full season). That’s a better projection than Drew, which is mildly astounding. McDaniel isn’t quite as optimistic, estimating his future value at 45+, or somewhere between a platoon player and average regular.
Refnsyder is the easy choice to be the starting second baseman after this year, but there is one player who can put a dent in that plan: Yoan Moncada. I’m not going to write much about him considering he isn’t in the organization, but I thought that it’s worth noting because the Yankees are one of the favored landing spots. For more on Moncada, I suggest reading McDaniel’s background on him or perusing Baseball America’s archives.
Farther away: Gosuke Katoh, Angelo Gumbs
Down the prospect ladder are Katoh (the namesake of Chris’ minor-league projection system) and Gumbs, who are the Yankees 16th and 75th best prospects. Both struggled in the minors last season; the former at Single-A Charleston and the latter at High-A Tampa. Despite the similar performance, the projections on the opposite. KATOH likes Katoh (ha-ha) and Gumbs for 5.3 and 0.9 WAR through age-28 respectively. Why the difference? Katoh has the age advantage (20 years-of-age to Gumbs’ 22) and has shown a propensity to walk and hit for a decent BABIP, while Gumbs has been worthless offensively. For what it’s worth, McDaniel thinks that “[Katoh’s] tools are still here for an everday guy if the offensive numbers tick up [in 2015]”. As for Gumbs? He’s got plus bat speed, but again, he just hasn’t hit the last two seasons.