A hot streak by Clint Frazier could only mean one thing for the longest tenured New York Yankees player: a way out.
The New York Yankees dropped the jaws of many fans and media by calling up their top outfield prospect, Clint Frazier. It (literally) came out of left field and was a move no one truly expected considering the development the 22-year-old still needs to go through.
Nonetheless, the kid with “legendary bat speed,” the flow and a personality that has attracted attention from everyone since being acquired from the Cleveland Indians will be on display in the major leagues.
With that, a couple of things come to mind. One is, of course, how everything for one of the hottest personas in the minor leagues will translate to the big leagues. Unlike many others who have come up since the Yankees sold, Frazier will have all the attention — many stemming from off-the-field occurrences like the spring training hair fiasco, his Twitter account and other rubbish (like the false report of him wanting Mickey Mantle‘s No. 7).
While those non-baseball-related characteristics, if you will, put him at the center of attention, his play will certainly be magnified. If Frazier struggles he’ll be attacked for being a bigger player off the field than on it. But if he shines and takes the league by storm, the Yankee brass may have to consider some options for 2017 and 2018.
As of right now, Brett Gardner, who’s job as the Yankees’ starting left fielder is safe (for now), seems like the pulse of the team. He’s hit two clutch game-tying home runs this season, has made sensational catches while attempting to successfully defend his gold-glove status and is truly showing the Baby Bombers the ropes in the show as the longest-tenured Yankee should.
Nonetheless, they know who the future is. Thus, don’t discount the phrase “for now.”
Regardless of where they currently sit in the American League East, the Yankees are still a team in transition. As mentioned, Gardner is one of the clubhouse’s most esteemed voices, but Frazier has been knocking on the door for a couple of weeks now while playing for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The pressure, now that the stud prospect is here, is on.
Overall, Frazier owns a .257/.345/.474 slash line with 12 home runs and 42 RBI’s in 74 games. He ranks third in the International League with 33 extra-base hits and, according to MLB Pipeline, has the potential hit .270 hitter with 30 homers per season when the dust settles on his development.
In his first stint with the big league squad, Frazier will likely be thrown into the outfield mix with Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Aaron Judge or some time at DH with veteran Matt Holliday on the DL with an allergic reaction. He’ll need playing time and will certainly get it. So what if he reaches his potential or, at least, showcases his authoritative power in the Bronx to fascinate the entire fanbase?
Of course, the stress will fall on Brett Gardner, who was actively shopped in the offseason and could be again this July or next offseason, if the already fan-favorite Clint Frazier showcases his limitless potential.
Yes, the 33-year-old is coming off a gold-glove campaign a year ago and turned around a rough April this season with a hot may but his inconsistencies have not gone away. After the month of May in which Gardner slashed .327/.400/.673 with nine home runs, a superb OPS of 1.073 and 68 total bases in 26 games played, he did something he’s done many times in the past (2015 being a prime example): he fell back to Earth. Hard.
In 27 June games, Gardner went 27-for-113 (.239) with an on-base percentage of .296 — his lowest since September of 2015 (.271) — and 24 strikeouts in 113 at-bats (21.2 percent). If a Frazier hot-streak forces him into the picture for the foreseeable future, Gardner will be the odd-man out, despite being one of the more underrated Yankees’ of our time. Ellsbury’s massive contract makes him stubborn to transfer and Hicks’ team control until 2020 on top of what has been a career-year would be foolish to ship away. It’s not old news that Gardner has the easiest contract to ship.
But, let’s digress from the “what if” scenario into the “what will likely happen” scenario. Frazier is not ready. Like Judge, he will likely not hit for a high average in his first go-around as he’s proven that he’s a slugger more than he is an all-around hitter at this stage of his career.
Frazier should play every day until one of the injured Bombers return from the shelf and when that happens, there’s no reason to believe he’ll stick around. He has reached a critical point in his development where he needs to see everyday time in Triple-A, not ride the pine in the Bronx in a backup role. He’s close, as he has made strides in keeping his swing-for-the-fence approach in check, but needs to do a better job of recognizing pitches (21.3 K%).
Close does not mean there. While a hot start could certainly give everyone a reminder that Frazier very well may be the starting left fielder for the 2018 Yankees and that Gardner is arguably playing on borrowed time, all Clint Frazier can do is put a little pressure on the beat of the 2017 New York Yankees.