There are, occasionally, good problems for a baseball team to have. Cleveland and Houston will have a hard time picking their starting rotations once the playoffs roll around, as both teams boast multiple number-one starters. Trying to decide whether Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander or Charlie Morton should start game one of the ALDS is a good problem. The Yankees have a good problem too, and that’s how deep and talented their outfield is.
The team’s two best hitters are both outfielders, and in fact nominally play the same outfield position. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have both played the lion’s share of their career games in right field, and Aaron Boone has juggled the addition of Stanton by penciling him at DH or in left, or giving him his natural spot in RF when Judge needs a half-day off and can serve as DH.
Aaron Hicks, meanwhile, has quietly become one of the best players on the team. A 139 wRC+ matched with what could very well end up a five win season in center field means he’ll be in the lineup as much as possible in the season’s second half. Brett Gardner continues to be the solid, if unspectacular, piece the Yankees have counted on for a decade.
All of that leads us to Clint Frazier. It’s been a curious season for the onetime Yankee prospect, who now finds himself somewhere in the purgatory between prospect and real major-league player. This is his fourth stint with the Yankees in 2018, and between his frequent-rider miles on the Scranton Shuttle and his concussion from earlier this season, it’s been impossible for him to get regular at-bats. The end result is a player that is rapidly looking like a prototypical Quad-A type; a man who hits too well for the minors - .577 slugging, .265 ISO - but can’t get enough playing time to stick in the majors. In Frazier’s limited time on the 25-man roster, his bat hasn’t been that impressive either, slugging .360 with a .080 ISO to compare apples and apples.
There are real positives to Clint’s time in the majors this go-round, though! Before a rough matchup against the Orioles Monday afternoon, he’d sported a healthy 13.4% walk rate, a shade better than what he’d seen in the minors. We’ve seen some pretty flashy power in Scranton that you have to figure would translate eventually to the bigs, the trouble is Frazier might just be squeezed out by the way his own team is built.
We’ve established that Judge and Stanton will play as many of the remaining games as physically possible in 2018. At minimum that takes away one outfield spot, and maybe even a second. Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks will fill in at center and the handedness of the opposing pitcher seems to matter less than the health of Hicks; Gardner also started two straight games against lefties in the Toronto series, and he’s terrible against left handers this season - 75 wRC+.
There’s also the defensive questions. Frazier’s started in center in the minors, but he’s certainly inferior to Hicks at that position. The front office clearly doesn’t think he’s better than Gardner either, or else Frazier would have started in center on Sunday instead of left field. Heck, when he came into the game replacing Hicks on Saturday he slotted in left rather than center.
In the end, Frazier’s path to a starting job with the Yankees looks more and more convoluted all the time. Despite a number of beat writers claiming the team won’t move him in trade talks, he may end up being the most vulnerable of 2018’s ascended rookie class. As I’m typing this, Frazier struck out with the bases loaded in the first inning of game two, and you have to wonder what his future in New York is at all.