Clint Frazier’s 2019 season has been a microcosm of his career with the New York Yankees.
The young outfielder flashed the skill that resulted in him being one of the top prospects in the system upon being acquired by the franchise, as he was lauded for his elite bat speed, offensive upside and athleticism. He impressed with a .324 batting average along with six home runs and 17 RBI before becoming the 15th Yankee to hit the disabled list on April 25. Frazier has cooled off some since his ankle healed but has still performed admirably with a slash line of .272/.319/.517 and an above average wOBA of .346.
But with the good comes the bad.
Frazier’s pitch recognition continues to be an issue, as evidenced by his high strikeout, low walk totals (44:9 K:BB in 147 at-bats). He’s also seen his fair share of problems defensively, never highlighted on a bigger stage than his Sunday Night Baseball performance against the Boston Red Sox, where he made three egregious mistakes in the field. After being drafted by the Cleveland Indians with the fifth overall pick in 2013, Frazier’s struggles mounted when he had a hard time picking up spin rates of breaking balls, as well as controlling his aggressive offensive approach. Additionally, the Yankees shifted him to left field due to their concerns that he wouldn’t be able to handle center field full-time.
And with the good and bad comes the ugly.
Early on in his Yankees career, there were character concerns, albeit largely unwarranted. There was a report from the team’s radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman about Frazier requesting Mickey Mantle’s retired number 7, which both the player and team debunked. Then there was a problem surrounding his hair length, which manager Joe Girardi famously called a “distraction,” even if the franchise still abides by arcane rules. And in the aforementioned game against the Red Sox, Frazier refused to speak with the media post game, leaving his teammates to defend him. The Yankees are known for teaching accountability to their young players during Spring Training, which in turn surely have rubbed some higher ups the wrong way.
Frazier’s time with the Yankees – both at the major and minor league level – has been unique to say the least.
His talent alone put him atop a star-studded prospect list post-2016 trade deadline, where he was positioned all Yankees prospects, ranging from Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to Blake Rutherford and Justus Sheffield.
But at this stage of the game, Frazier hasn’t skated by on talent alone. And because of that, he’s at a crossroads in the Bronx.
Torres was the equivalent to Frazier at the 2016 deadline when he came to the Yankees as the prized prospect in the Aroldis Chapman trade to the Chicago Cubs. Unlike Frazier, however, not only has Torres found a spot in the everyday lineup, but he’s also considered a cornerstone for the franchise over the next decade, slashing .279/.338/.502 in 179 big league games, including 38 home runs and 109 RBI. You can even look to Miguel Andujar as a suitable comparison. Like Frazier, Andujar struggled mightily on the defensive end. But the young third baseman was able to mask his woes by becoming the most consistent offensive player on a 100-win team. If Frazier finds consistency on offense, there wouldn’t be questions surrounding his future.
At the same time, Frazier has been far from a bust. Despite his shortcomings, he’s injected youthful life and swagger into the clubhouse and has, for the most part, earned his prospect status.
Rutherford was once lauded as the outfielder of the future and, similar to Frazier, was one of the most sought-after talents leading up to the draft. Despite hitting an eye-popping .577 in his final high school season, the California native’s struggles in the minors have been surprising, a hump Frazier was able to get over. Justus Sheffield, who also made his way from Cleveland to New York along with Frazier in the Andrew Miller trade, was, as recently as this past September, considered the Yankees’ top pitching prospect. Failing to take his game to the next level, the front office decided to sell high on Sheffield, sending him to the Seattle Mariners for James Paxton. Up until this point, Frazier has shown enough to warrant a stay with the ballclub.
Frazier has seen his ups and downs ever since coming to New York, and it’s hard to deny that.
The question is, does he have a future with the franchise?
Frazier has proved he can hit at the major league level on a daily basis. He’s filled in admirably for Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, all of whom who have missed significant time this season. The Yankees can trot out an outfield of Frazier, Hicks and Judge with Stanton as the designated hitter, which maximizes the team’s offensive potential.
At the same time, his defense continues to be a liability. July could be the perfect time to sell high on Frazier, making him the top name in a trade for a pitcher like Madison Bumgarner or Marcus Stroman, among others. This will clear a path for current top prospect Estevan Florial, who has catapulted Frazier in terms of potential and upside.
At this stage of the game, it’s sink or swim for the 24-year-old.
A logical mind says Frazier will swim.
He’s been consistently taking reps out in right field before gates open over the last 10 days. While he did skip out on media obligations immediately after Sunday night’s game, he also spoke with ESPN’s Coley Harvey in the early hours of Monday morning and stated he’s “confident in [himself] to be able to turn this around soon.” The hope is he can have a similar turn around as Gary Sanchez, someone who works hard enough on their defense while also finding himself offensively.
Either way, the Yankees will be thrilled.
They’ll have a motivated Clint Frazier producing on an everyday basis while simultaneously reaching his All-Star ceiling, which certainly help in their quest to World Series number 28.
Or they’ll have a fantastic trade chip, which will also help in their quest to World Series number 28.
Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville