[This article was written by Mike DeLuca]
2012 was a remarkable year for Rob Refsnyder. He led the University of Arizona Wildcats to their fourth College World Series Championship, was named the College World Series' Most Outstanding player, and was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Yankees.
The Seoul native was adopted by the Refsnyder family of Laguna Hills, California when he was three months old. He graduated from Laguna Hills High School where in his senior season he set the school’s record for the highest career batting average and highest single-season batting average.
While he was a standout on the diamond throughout his high school career, he also starred on his school’s basketball and football teams and was named the school’s Athlete of the Year as a senior. As the football team’s quarterback he was named the division’s Offensive Player of the Year in his senior season and was recruited by several Pacific-12 Conference [Pac-10 at the time] football programs.
His decision to attend the University of Arizona as an outfielder for the baseball team was not a difficult one.
“Baseball has always been my passion,” Refsnyder said. “I really liked the coaches and it seemed like the right fit for me.”
In the opinion of the Arizona coaching staff, they were getting a complete player. Consequently, they were very aggressive in pursuing him.
“He can do it all,” University of Arizona hitting coach Matt Siegel said. “Physically, he’s got unbelievable tools as a hitter; his bat speed and hand-eye-coordination are incredible. He brought a lot to our program. He had a very competitive spirit and other players fed off his energy on the field and in the weight room, and he really left an incredible legacy with our program."
Refsnyder’s impact was felt immediately. In his freshman season he batted .344 [third on the team], was selected to the Fort Worth All-Regional Team, and was a Pac-10 honorable mention.
From there, Refsnyder would only improve. In the fall of the Wildcats 2011-2012 season he batted about .800 over a week long span of inter-squad scrimmages. On Friday of that week he had gone 0-2 and was disappointed with his performance. His dedication to his team and his own personal improvements is what has allowed him to stand out among his peers and compete on a professional level.
“I’m usually the first one at the ball park every morning around 7 or 7:30,” Siegel said. “Saturday morning I came to the complex and Rob is hitting in the cages trying to work on his swing and trying to shorten his stroke. He’s got so much pride and he just refuses to fail.”
Refsnyder was a huge component, but Arizona’s championship season was truly a team effort. After a slow start to the season, Alex Mejia [who had been injured] was moved to the three spot in the lineup and Rob was moved to four. This gave the Wildcats a very strong heart of their lineup; combining Refsnyder with Mejia and Johnny Fields, who led the Pac-10 in hitting and on base percentage. Even when surrounded by great talent, Refsnyder still stood out.
“We found a scouting report left in the visitor’s dugout and they had Rob listed as our most dangerous hitter,” Siegel said.
As one of the more feared hitters in college baseball, pitchers often pitched around Refsnyder, forcing him to adjust.
“College pitchers can’t rely as much on their fastball, it’s just too easy to hit barrels with these aluminum bats," Siegel added. "So for Rob in the four hole, he learned that pitchers would pitch backwards to him. We kept preaching that there’s nothing wrong with a walk.”
In his final season at Arizona, Refsnyder more than doubled his base on balls total and raised his on-base percentage by 50 points.
Refsnyder admits the transition from college to professional baseball was challenging at first. As a professional hitter, pitchers have not been afraid to challenge him with the fastball.
“It’s tough with stats because they don’t show everything, but honestly the first month or so my swing was really long, a real college approach,” Refsnyder admitted. “In college I saw a lot of offspeed pitches so my approach was kind of geared towards offspeed pitches.
"In pro ball every pitcher tries to challenge you with the fastball. It took me a while to adjust and shorten my swing, but the last month I’ve felt a lot better swinging the bat. It’s been a really good experience because it shows what I need to work on in the off season.”
“Good hitters learn to hit the fastball and they want to hit the fastball,” Siegel added. “And I know Rob can hit the fastball with the best of them.”
Refsnyder joined the Charleston RiverDogs for their last 46 games and ended his first half of a professional season with a .241 average and four home runs. His numbers, thus far, fall short in comparison to his .364 average this past season at the University of Arizona, but, in this case, the numbers may be misleading.
“I think Rob’s doing a good job. His numbers don’t look all that great but he’s put together some quality at-bats while he’s been here and the numbers aren’t really indicative of how well he’s played,” Charleston hitting coach Greg Colbrunn said.
Offensively, Refsnyder now knows the adjustments he needs to make during the offseason. However, defensively is a different story. Next season, the Yankees plan to move him from the outfield to second base, a position that he has had little experience playing.
“I haven’t played infield in a couple years so I’m sure I’ll have a lot of one-on-one instruction. Learning to play infield, communication, what it takes to be a good infielder,” Refsnyder said. “I talked to Cito [Culver], who is a really good defender, so he’s been good to learn from. I want to build off this last month and in Instructs and hopefully into Spring Training and we’ll see where I end up.
“I think it’s going to be rough at first because I’ve been around a lot of good infielders and I know how hard they work. They take so many ground balls, so I’ll be taking hundreds everyday and I’ll have tons of instruction from guys who have experience.”
While Refsnyder has some apprehension towards his new position, his coaches are confident that he can make a smooth transition.
“Hopefully it’ll be great. He’s a very good athlete out there, very athletic body. He moves around out in the outfield really well, so hopefully it shouldn’t be too much trouble moving over to second base,” Colbrunn said.
“I think he’s going to be fine,” added RiverDogs manager Carlos Mendoza. “He’s very athletic and has quick feet. I think it’s a good move and we’ll see how it goes.”
While at Arizona, Refsnyder played infield sparingly. Over his three years there he played the majority of his time in right field, but also saw some time at first, second, third, and left field.
“I talked to a few scouts who came to watch him play and they all said they saw no problems with him moving to second base,” Siegel added.
Traditionally, outfield has been much more competitive, batting-wise, than second base. Moving to second base may allow Refsnyder to stand out more offensively. Where as in the outfield everyone can hit for power and produce night after night, the bat of a second baseman can sometimes be seen as a little more expendable.
Refsnyder has the unique combination of incredible hitting along with the athleticism and flexibility necessary to play the infield. This move might, ultimately, allow him to progress through higher levels more quickly.
“I think the move will be better for him from a professional standpoint,” Siegel said. “It can be a disaster for some people, but I think he’ll be fine.”
It is unusual for a player to be drafted out of college and begin his career immediately in Low-A, as Refsnyder did. In only a short time, Refsnyder has gained valuable experience that can benefit him next season.
“The biggest thing that he’s learned is what it takes to be a professional player and getting ready to play everyday,” Mendoza said. “He doesn’t get too many breaks. You have to get up at 9 am the next day and forget about it and that’s what he’s doing. He’s making good adjustments and making progress.”
“It’s an everyday thing," Colbrunn added. "You’re playing seven games a week as opposed to just three or four. It’s a long season. The transition from college to pro has given him a lot of experience.”
This experience, more than anything, has given Refsnyder confidence entering the offseason.
“I feel pretty confident right now with my approach and with things going forward. I’m really looking forward to having a breakout second professional season. I have high expectations for myself. I’m sure there will be some rough times in the infield, but the Yankees said they would be patient with me so I’m looking forward to it," Refsnyder concluded.