Yankees: How does Clint Frazier break into the major league lineup?

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Clint Frazier
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 09: Clint Frazier /

Since coming off the disabled list, Yankees prospect Clint Frazier is slashing .333/.404/.643 with three doubles, two triples and two home runs in 42 at-bats at Triple-A Scranton.

It might be a small sample size, but Yankees prospect Clint Frazier is terrorizing minor league pitching since making his return from a concussion suffered on Feb. 24 during Spring Training.

The fifth overall selection by the Indians in the 2013 MLB Draft, Frazier’s “legendary bat speed” and bravado have garnered him some much-warranted attention since then.

During his first taste of the big leagues in 2017, Frazier produced a mixed bag of results. In 134 at-bats, the now 23-year-old batted .213 with a .751 OPS and 43:7 K:BB ratio.

More encouraging were his nine doubles, four triples, four home runs and 17 RBI while playing a solid left field and inspiring teammates with his tough-nosed play.

Before crashing into an outfield wall during Grapefruit League play, most pundits expected Frazier to break camp with the Bombers as the fourth outfielder.

So now that “Red Thunder” is back to impressing at Triple-A, it’s only a matter of time until his promotion to the Bronx, right?

That’s the dilemma. Although the Yankees are 27-12 and have been on an absolute tear over the past 20 days or so, they haven’t gotten consistent production out of two-thirds of their everyday outfield; namely Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner.

However, there are three things at play that keep Frazier at bay (rhyme intended).

  1. Both Hicks and Gardner are very good defenders, if not stellar at times.
  2. Both Hicks and Gardner provide veteran leadership on an otherwise inexperienced roster.
  3. The Yanks are winning, so changing things up seems counterproductive.

So how is it then that Clint Frazier breaks into the Yankees major league lineup this season?

The simplest answer to the question is through injury. But it’s bad karma to speculate which Yankee outfielder will pull up lame. Others will say, Frazier, will not get a promotion. At 23, he still has time to refine his approach at the plate down in the minors.

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Then there’s the faction of folks that fully expect Frazier to be packaged with other prospects before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline for a veteran starting pitcher.

I for one would like to see Frazier get ample at-bats in pinstripes before deeming him excess to the cause.

A center fielder by trade, the Indians shifted Frazier to the corner outfield spots because of their other top prospect, Bradley Zimmer. So saying that Frazier can’t play center field isn’t factual. He just hasn’t done a whole lot of it since 2014.

While he may not cover as much ground as say, Dustin Fowler, whom the Yanks traded to Oakland in the Sonny gray deal, Frazier’s ability to read a ball off the bat and excellent throwing arm certainly make up for it. According to Fangraphs, Frazier’s defensive grades are as so:

  • Speed: 50/50
  • Field: 45/50
  • Throws: 60/60

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spoken with both Buster Olney and Tim Kurkjian of ESPN — and both have assured me that Brett Gardner will hold down the fort in left field for the duration of this season. However, next year is an entirely different story, as the soon-to-be 35-year-old Gardner has a $12.5 million team option or a $2 million buy-out for the 2019 season.

By then, if Frazier is still a member of the organization, the Yanks will need to find out what he’s capable of.

With manager Aaron Boone saying that he will sit Gardner more so than in years past to keep him fresh, why not call up Frazier and work him in during Gardy’s off-days and Aaron Hicks’ cold-streaks?

Since his arrival to the Yankees in 2016, Aaron Hicks has teased the Yankees with his hot and cold offensive game. At the plate, he has all the tools — a switch-hitter with gap-to-gap power, fantastic baserunning ability and a keen batter’s eye.

There are times, like on Saturday versus the A’s when Hicks goes from hitting a home run in first at-bat to looking miserable in his next four plate appearances. This type of hit-or-miss production is the reason why the Twins traded their 2008 first round pick in the first place.

On the season, Hicks is hitting .213 with a .712 OPS, has three homers, 13 RBI and a 21:17 K:BB ratio in 89 at-bats.

Without a doubt, Hicks is a spectacular defender. He gets a great jump on fly balls, is unafraid to risk his body up against outfield walls and possesses one of the strongest throwing arms for an outfielder in the entire game.

However, much like Frazier, we still don’t know what Hicks is truly capable of over the course of a 162-game schedule. And it’s too bad because, in 2017, Hicks looked to be well on his way to finally harnessing his potential. But then two separate oblique injuries limited him to only 88 games.

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I fully understand the advantages of keeping Frazier in Triple-A, allowing him to get everyday at-bats. But perhaps, both he, and the big league team would be better served to have Frazier work with the major league coaching staff, coming off the bench when need-be and pushing a guy like Hicks to be better.

What’s the worst that could happen, Frazier outplays Hicks? It seems like a win-win to me.