Could the Yankees starting Brett Gardner in LF during the playoffs hurt Clint Frazier’s development?
The burning questions surrounding the Yankees entering their first-round matchup with Cleveland was who would start a potential Game 3 — manager Aaron Boone revealed JA Happ would have taken the rubber — and how the inconsistent bullpen would fare.
However, Boone disclosed ahead of Game 1 that his most difficult decision was choosing to start Brett Gardner in left field over Clint Frazier. We all know that Frazier vasty outperformed Gardy for most of the regular season, but the tides turned down the stretch.
Though Gardner ended the year hitting .223/.354/.392 with 15 RBI, he finished on a torrid 10-for-25 (.385) stretch over his final nine games. Frazier, meanwhile, hit .267/.394/.511 with eight home runs, 26 RBI and a .905 OPS, but ended the campaign in a 1-for-20 slump.
When you take those numbers into consideration, it’s understandable why Boone chose to roll with the hot bat in Gardner. However, it’s time we start pondering if this narrative, assuming it continues throughout the playoffs, could impede Frazier’s development.
This isn’t questioning if Frazier is capable of being a dependable everyday starting outfielder. The former No. 5 overall pick’s star potential has been evident for years, but he simply never got the chance to showcase it on a regular basis due to a logjam of star players at his position. He proved in 2020 that he deserves to be the Yankees starting LF of the future.
With that being said, the Yankees are going to need Frazier to produce in October at some point, and, for almost the final two months of the regular season, it looked as though he was finally going to get his chance.
Performing with your team’s elimination on the line is an entirely different animal than lighting it up throughout the regular season. Not everybody thrives in those pressurized circumstances, but the 2020 playoffs would have given Frazier the perfect opportunity to work through playing under such high-stakes scenarios.
We don’t disagree with Boone’s decision to bench Frazier since Gardner delivered a handful of spectacular at-bats against Cleveland. However, if he continues to get the nod in left field in the ALDS and potentially beyond, it could seriously hurt Frazier’s overall development as an everyday starter for the Yankees … and as a potential catalyst they’ll need in future postseasons.
At this point in his career, we simply have zero idea if he can produce on baseball’s biggest stage, though we do have evidence of him delivering under his own difficult individual circumstances of having to constantly prove himself to earn playing time. We’ve seen that, but now we need to know if he can push forth with that mentality in October.