Clint Frazier was in headlines quite a lot this season. Some things certainly warranted attention. In a short, 39-game big league cameo, the 23-year-old outfielder homered in his debut and hit a three-run walk-off homer against the Brewers. However, Clint Frazier found himself the subject of a few off-field “controversies” too.
Fraizer spent time in big league Spring Training with the Indians in 2016, but this season was his first camp with the Yankees. When he arrived at camp, red-haired Frazier was sporting some near-shoulder length locks, which quickly became a talking point in the media. The New York Times published an article on March 5th about Frazier’s hair, and by the 10th, Frazier was sporting a much shorter hairdo.
Officially, the front office didn’t make any decision on the hair. Joe Girardi and Frazier apparently met and “agreed that it had become a distraction.” The frenzy around Frazier briefly calmed as spring training ended. That is, until Suzyn Waldman appeared on WFAN on April 5th.
In a radio interview, Waldman claimed Frazier asked the Yankees, “if they ever un-retire numbers,” in an apparent attempt to wear Mickey Mantle’s old number 7. Frazier refuted the claim via Twitter, stating he’d never ask for a retired number. Brian Cashman called the story “totally untrue” in a conversation with ESPN’s Andrew Marchand.
Before most fans ever got to see him play, Frazier was twice the center of off-field controversy, but these “controversies” were mostly non-stories. Frazier obviously had no control over the wild rumor about jersey numbers, and the narrative around his hair was more about the Yankees’ archaic policies rather than Frazier defying the front office. Still, so much press for someone who had never suited up for a Major League game didn’t do any favors to Frazier’s image. When he finally got called up to the Yankees, there was this perceived air of immaturity around Frazier, which Tyler Norton wrote about earlier this summer.
It didn’t take long for that narrative to begin shift, though. Frazier received his call-up to the Yankees on July 1st, and he quickly became a bright light during one of the darkest points in the season. The month of June had been cruel to the Yankees. The big league team struggled mightily. Gleyber Torres was lost for the season, and Dustin Fowler closed out the month with his own horrific knee injury. Frazier’s addition to the active roster was a shot of energy in a stagnant team.
Frazier struggled in the games immediately following his debut, but he started to pick things up again in his fifth game, a 1-for-3 performance with a triple. The following game against the Brewers on July 8th was his most memorable of the season. He capped off a 3-for-4 day with a walk-off homer off Corey Knebel.
Since Aaron Hicks was on the disabled list, Frazier got the chance to play every day during July before an oblique injury sidelined him for nearly all of August and September. In his brief stint as an everyday player, Frazier showed flashes of the big league star he will hopefully become, but there were still some noticeable flaws in his game.
The biggest knocks on Frazier’s 2017 season were his strikeout and walk percentages. Frazier struck out 30.3% of the time and walked just 4.9% of the time. Granted, the sample size is extremely small, but this isn’t exactly a new problem. There have been times in his minor league career when his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a little too skewed, but he has always bounced back. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the future, but he could’ve just been pressing. Lots of strikeouts and too few walks isn’t exactly uncommon for rookie hitters.
All told, Frazier showed us what made him one of baseball’s top prospects when he put the ball in play. Of his 31 hits at the big league level, 17 went for extra-bases. Frazier’s four triples were tied for the team lead with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. However, Ellsbury and Gardner reached the number in 409 and 682 plate appearances, respectively. Frazier did it in just 142.
Frazier primarily plays left field, but his arm is strong enough to handle right field when needed. If he performs well in spring training next season, Frazier should get serious consideration for the big league roster. He’s an asset in the field, and his bat is strong enough to play as a part-time DH.
Clint Frazier has set himself up to be a key player for the Yankees for years to come, but how he fits into the 2018 lineup is not yet clear. I think questions about his MLB-readiness are totally fair. Beginning the 2018 season in Triple-A isn’t totally out of the question, especially when considering the team’s other outfielders.
The Yankees already have four outfielders other than Frazier, and each of them has a case to be in the lineup. Aaron Judge definitely isn’t going anywhere. Aaron Hicks is coming off a career year. Gardner just had one of the best seasons of his career too. Ellsbury looks like the odd man out, but that’s a lot of money to put on the bench.
There is always the possibility the front office trades one of the outfielders to clear a space on the roster. Still if no move is made, injuries unfortunately tend to “fix” these problems. An injury spurred Frazier’s initial call-up in 2017. Regardless of how it happens, the Yankees’ lineup will include Clint Frazier soon and for years to come. This season offered a glimpse into his potential as a player, and what he showed us was extremely encouraging.