After a season lost to a concussion, outfielder Clint Frazier is finally in a position to break out for the 2019 New York Yankees.
A nasty concussion suffered in Spring Training limited him to 69 total games across the majors and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
To add insult to literal injury, Frazier only this past week announced on his Twitter he had been cleared to participate in Spring Training. Frazier had already been doing some baseball activities, but this was still a big hurdle to clear.
after a longggggggg battle with the concussion like symptoms i’m happy to tell u i’ve been cleared to participate in spring training and go after what i’ve wanted since being traded over here, to win an outfield job and show u guys what i can do. i’m readyyyyyyy. pic.twitter.com/qsi7LcMmbr
— Clint Frazier (@clintfrazier) January 17, 2019
And all signs point to Frazier competing with Brett Gardner for the starting left fielder’s job. The Yankees haven’t pursued mega free agent Bryce Harper. Nothing suggests Giancarlo Stanton will operate primarily outside the DH spot. No other outfielders appear to be on general manager Brian Cashman’s radar ahead of Opening Day.
That means once position players report to Tampa on Feb. 19, Clint Frazier will have every opportunity to get his baseball career back on track.
How that chapter plays out, however, is up to him.
A Roller Coaster of a Career
Poor Clint Frazier. Ever since the Cleveland Indians drafted him out of Georgia’s Loganville High School with the fifth overall pick in 2013, he’s bounced around from minor league team to major city to minor league team and then back again. The Yankees acquired him, Justus Sheffield, and Ben Heller from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade and the hype train immediately departed the station.
Frazier hit 16 home runs with 55 RBI in the minors in 2016 while also tallying 13 steals. He also showed fine plate discipline despite 122 strikeouts, posting a line of .263/.335/.447. His first manager at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Al Pedrique, even went so far as to say Frazier reminded him of Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout.
Well, fans got a taste of what Frazier could do the following season when he was called up from Triple-A in July. Sure enough, in his major league debut against the Astros, he went 2-for-4 with a double and solo home run.
One week later, he led the Yankees to an incredible comeback victory against the Milwaukee Brewers, including a walk-off home run.
The hype was all too real. Frazier was only up to fill in for the injured Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury, but he proved he could hang on at the MLB level. All signs pointed to him being a key part of the Bronx Bombers’ future. He only hit .256 with 12 homers and 42 RBI at Triple-A that year, but he played much better than that. Per Pedrique’s prediction, Mike Trout 2.0 was looking like a reality.
That is until the injury bug reared its ugly head and cursed Frazier with a momentum-crippling concussion.
The Long Road Back
Now that Clint Frazier has been cleared for Spring Training, this is his Rocky 3 moment. Cue “Eye of the Tiger” and set up the montage. The concussion may have downed him with the ferocity of Clubber Lang, but we all know how the story goes. Rocky Balboa, or Frazier in this case, trains hard and returns with a vengeance.
The problem is, there is no clear role for him. You’ll recall I recently tried predicting the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup, and I penciled in Gardner as the starting left fielder. This was done for a couple of reasons. First, concussions are tricky and I expect the Yankees to use Frazier conservatively. Second, the lineup is already heavily right-handed and adding Gardner’s lefty bat makes sense for matchup reasons.
There’s just one problem. Even in a season spent mostly in the minors, Frazier had a better overall year. He posted a line of .311/.389/.574 with 11 homers and 24 RBI at Scranton and took a step forward despite his injury.
Gardner, on the other hand, batted a meager .236, his worst batting average since his MLB debut in 2008. He still ranked ninth in the majors with 4.24 pitches per plate appearance, but his line drive rate dipped to 17.9 percent from 22.3 percent in 2017. Seeing as Gardner turned 35 last season, it may be his bat speed isn’t at its best anymore.
Clint Frazier, on the other hand, is 23 and ready to burst on the scene, and this time for good.
An Uphill Battle
The good news for Frazier is, per Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, Gardner too will have to earn a job in Spring Training.
Cashman said Gardner will have a chance in spring training to reclaim starting LF job. #Yankees
— Brendan Kuty (@BrendanKutyNJ) November 5, 2018
The difference between the two is just what each has to get done in spring camp. Gardner’s path is simpler. All he has to do is be consistent at the plate and continue playing good defense in left.
Frazier, on the other hand, has to be great and then some. As a right-handed hitter in a lineup desperately needing a lefty bat, he has to show he isn’t just a flashy redhead who can swing a bat. No, Frazier needs to show he is not only fully recovered from his concussion, but can also be an effective all-around hitter. This means hitting the ball to all fields instead of just pulling it. It means knowing when to go for the big swing and when to play small ball.
It means showing manager Aaron Boone that, despite being just 24 years old, he is a well-rounded and mature ballplayer.
All in all, it’s not as though Clint Frazier’s career hinges on him earning a starting job out of Spring Training. At a minimum, barring a major resurgence from Jacoby Ellsbury, he should be the Yankees’ fourth outfielder.
Except Frazier doesn’t want that. He wants to play regularly. Just how fellow redhead Ron Weasley won a Quidditch Cup for Gryffindor House, Frazier wants to win a World Series for the New York Yankees.
And Frazier will have every opportunity to do that if he is indeed fully recovered. His overall ceiling is higher than that of Gardner or Ellsbury, so a strong Spring Training should be enough to get him playing every day.
But Frazier cannot afford to get cocky. One misstep could see him go from top player to trade chip.
Hopefully, fans get to see the former in 2019.