If there were a physical location for the Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame, there would be two separate wings. One would be dedicated to their two World Series championship teams and the legendary players who put on a Twins uniform like Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, and Kirby Puckett.
The other wing would be dedicated to players who didn’t make the All-Star team or win a World Series but still live on in the hearts of Twins fans. It’s a place where Nick Punto’s grit and Willians Astudillo’s pitching appearances will live on forever.
If Rob Refsnyder keeps up his recent play, there’s a good chance he could take his place in this wing alongside fellow Twins Lew Ford and Dustan Mohr. The 30-year-old has been forced into action with injuries to all three members of the Twins outfield and has responded with the best stretch of his career.
Refsnyder’s career began as a fifth-round pick of the New York Yankees in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. After signing out of the University of Arizona, Refsnyder dominated the Yankees’ system, hitting .300/.389/.486 with eight home runs and 33 RBI in 77 games for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre and made his major league debut late in the 2015 season.
Life as a September call-up was sweet for Refsnyder, hitting .302/.348/.512 in 16 games that season, but his numbers dipped to a .637 OPS in 58 games for the Yankees the following season. From 2017 to 2018, Refsnyder played in 92 games for the Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, and Tampa Bay Rays, hitting .169/.281/.244 and found himself in the Cleveland Indians minor league system for the entire 2019 season.
After a brief stop with the Texas Rangers in 2020, Refsnyder signed with the Twins as a minor league free agent before this season. In eight games at Triple-A St. Paul, Refsnyder only hit .233 but logged an OPS of .878. With the injury situation in the outfield, Refsnyder was called up.
Coming into Wednesday’s game with the Baltimore Orioles, Refsnyder hit .438/.472/.719 with two home runs and seven RBI. But it’s more than just a hot streak. Statcast logs Refsnyder’s exit velocity of 91.1 mph as the second fastest of his career behind his 2020 season, and the reason is a change in his approach at the plate.
“I’m trying to get a little bit of a running start,” Refsnyder explained to MLB.com’s Do-Hyoung Park. “Try to have a toe tap where my hands come down with it, so it’s an equal and opposite. As I go forward, my hands start to come back up. … I was like, ‘This is a no-brainer. I just need to keep going with this.’”
Refsnyder’s approach led him to a legendary performance at Target Field where he smashed an RBI double, followed it up with a diving catch, and added an insurance run with an eighth-inning homer. While he also made an error on a catch that would have ended the game, it was the type of folk hero performance that will have Twins fans wonder in five years, “What happened to that, um, Roughsider guy?”
The question is, how long will Refsnyder’s breakout continue? In 2004, Ford hit .299/.381/.446 with 15 home runs, 72 RBI, and 20 RBIs. The “LEW!” chants at the Metrodome didn’t stop in 2005 but his production at the plate tailed off with a .716 OPS that fell to .599 in 2006.
Jason Tyner became a fan favorite with a .286/.331/.355 line in 2007, but his shocking lack of power didn’t help him stick around. With one major league home run in 1,467 plate appearances, Tyner played in just one MLB game after leaving Minnesota the following season.
Perhaps Refsnyder won’t have as dramatic of a fall-off, but for now, he’s enjoying the experience. With Byron Buxton due back in the coming weeks, Refsnyder is filling his production and should continue to serve as the fourth outfielder for the remainder of the season.
“I’m just trying to hold the fort down until Buck gets back,” Refsnyder told the Star Tribune. “I know he’s getting back soon, which as a Twins fan, I’m sure people are very excited about.”
Twins fans are definitely eager for the return of Buxton, but they could be just as eager to tell their kids about the one night Refsnyder became a legend.