Not long ago, second base for the New York Yankees was as stable, consistent and productive as any position on any team in Major League Baseball. These days, it’s anything but.

The keystone has become a key question mark for the Yankees ever since Robinson Cano—the last true star position player the club has drafted and developed—surprisingly up and left for the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in December of 2013.

From 2005, his rookie campaign, through 2013, Cano registered a .309/.355/.504 triple-slash line and averaged just shy of 23 homers and just north of 90 RBI a season. He also played—get this—at least 159 games every year from 2007 through 2013.

By comparison, in their first year post-Cano, here’s what the Yankees got out of their second basemen—an aging, injury-prone, past-their-prime conglomeration of, among others, Brian Roberts, Stephen Drew, Martin Prado and Brendan Ryan: .246/.303/.390 with 13 home runs and 53 RBI.


Seeking a mulligan for that, New York brought back Drew on a cheap, one-year, $5 million deal to see if the 32-year-old nine-year veteran can do better than his ghastly .150/.219/.271 Yankees line now that he’ll have a full spring training under him.

Manager Joe Girardi already has declared Drew the starting second sacker.

“Our plan is for it to be Stephen,” Girardi said, via Erik Boland of Newsday. “We signed him to be our second baseman.”

But it’s not as if the franchise is counting on Drew to be the long-term answer at the position. The Yankees still are seeking Cano’s replacement.

This year and, especially, going forward, the Yankees have to be wondering who—or what—is on second?

That’s where prospects Robert Refsnyder and Jose Pirela come in as candidates who are nearly ready to be big leaguers and who at least present the possibility of handling second base for years to come.

Refsnyder, who is not yet on the 40-man roster, is a soon-to-be 24-year-old righty hitter and thrower who started to come into his own in 2014. He batted .318/.387/.497 while splitting his season between Double- and Triple-A. That put Refsnyder, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2012, on the prospect map.

That spring, the Korean-born Refsnyder had played outfield for the University of Arizona club that won the College World Series in 2012—he was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player—but he transitioned to second base soon after turning pro.

“He primarily played right field for the Arizona Wildcats,” writes Nick Peruffo of The Trentonian, “but at 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he didn’t project to have the type of power major league teams look for at the corner outfield position.”

Refsnyder, who has hit .346 (9-for-26) with six runs, a homer and a steal this spring, played 122 games at second base in 2014, with another nine in right field.

Unlike Refsnyder, Pirela is on the 40-man and already has made his MLB debut, which came very late last September. Pirela, who also is right-handed, earned the promotion by hitting .305/.351/.441 at Triple-A.

The 25-year-old Venezuela native played all over the diamond at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, seeing time at first and short, in addition to second, as well as all three outfield spots.

Pirela, who has good speed despite a shorter, stockier frame at 5’11” and 210 pounds, has performed well this March, too, going 10-for-27 (.370) with three doubles, two triples and a steal.

That appeared to have put Pirela in position to make the 25-man roster, but a collision with the outfield wall while playing center field on Sunday resulted in a concussion that has his status up in the air at the moment.

“Obviously you’re concerned when a player doesn’t get up,” Girardi said via Jamal Collier of “He did not feel good.”

So, is Refsnyder or Pirela the Yankees’ future at second base? That question can be interpreted one of two ways.

If it’s an either/or—as in, Refsnyder vs. Pirela—then the bet here is on Refsnyder, given that he’s younger, has better plate discipline (.389 career OBP versus .339 for Pirela), has a better pedigree as a fifth-round draft pick and is coming off a breakout 2014 campaign. Plus, he might be able to improve a little more, seeing as he only transitioned to second base a couple of years ago.

Pirela, on the other hand, profiles more as a backup or utility man-type. He can hit well enough, run a bit and play multiple positions, as he has shown this spring and in the minors. There’s always value in versatility, but Pirela doesn’t project as an impact player either offensively or defensively.

Which brings us to the second way to interpret the question above. If it’s taken as a straight query—as in, will one of Refsnyder or Pirela be good enough to become the Yankees’ second baseman of the future?—then the answer is murkier.

In short, it really depends on two things: 1) how much more Refsnyder can develop, especially on defense, and 2) whether the Yankees—a big-market, contend-at-all-costs organization—would feel comfortable going with a second baseman who might fit as more of a second-division regular.

There’s certainly the argument that New York needs to get younger, more athletic and cheaper, and general manager Brian Cashman gradually is remaking the roster with that in mind. That bodes well for Refsnyder, who is about to embark on a very important year. If he continues to develop, not only will Refsnyder make his major league debut, but he also could turn himself into the long-term answer at second base.

Refsnyder isn’t going to remind anyone of Cano, the super-smooth, sweet-swinging superstar of a second baseman. But then again, no one else in MLB at the position does, either.


Statistics are accurate through Monday, March 23 and courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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