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Clint Frazier’s impending return should boost the Yankees in September

The talented former top prospect has begun a rehab assignment, and should help the Yankees’ outfield down the stretch.

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ lack of outfield depth in the second half has been a bit of a sore spot. In quick succession, the Yankees traded outfield prospect Billy McKinney, traded backup first baseman/right fielder Tyler Austin, and saw Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier succumb to injuries. They delayed bringing in a replacement for Judge. which led to an amount of Shane Robinson that surely exceeds the daily recommended value.

That all finally changed yesterday, when the Yankees traded for Andrew McCutchen. Judge still hasn’t swung a bat, and with the superstar right fielder perhaps weeks away from a return, it behooved the Yankees to move before the waiver deadline.

Before McCutchen’s arrival, it looked like Frazier might have a key role to play. The 23-year-old has been dealing with concussion related symptoms since diving for a ball in Triple-A on July 19th. This was his second unfortunate bout with head injuries this year, after suffering a concussion by running into the left-field wall in spring training.

Frazier began a rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Thursday, and it started off well:

With Frazier rehabbing in Florida, it appears he could be close to resurfacing in the majors. Rosters expand today, and once Frazier gets his feet wet and reestablishes himself, he should get the call to the bigs.

Adding Frazier to the active roster isn’t the boon it would have been before acquiring McCutchen. That being said, a strong return from Frazier could still provide a nice piece of depth down the stretch, with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner all having carried a huge load since Judge went down.

In 33 days since Judge’s injury, Stanton has played in 33 games. Hicks has played in 32. Gardner, the elder statesman of them all, has played in 33. It’s been a tireless stretch for the group. Stanton has been nursing an ailing hamstring, and Gardner, at the age of 35, is on pace to play in over 145 games for the sixth consecutive season. At this point, they all could surely use a break, as they have been simply overworked during this stretch.

Trading for McCutchen means that Frazier won’t need to rush through rehab to provide relief to the Yankees’ tired outfield. Still, McCutchen has carried a remarkable load as well this year. He has played nearly every game for the Giants this year, and probably could use a breather down the stretch too.

With McCutchen in the fold, the Yankees can afford to take their time with both Judge and Frazier. With Frazier seemingly on the cusp of returning, though, the Yankees can also use the young outfielder to keep all of their veterans fresh. Frazier could be a perfect fourth/fifth outfielder in September, helping to ensure the Yankees always have cogent, Robinson-less, rested outfield.

Frazier has been inconsistent with the Yankees, posting a .238/.295/.429 line in 183 plate appearances in the majors over the past two seasons. He’s showcased plus athleticism and the ability to square the ball up, but also plenty of swing and miss. There’s no guarantee he’ll be great upon return from injury.

That being said, FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections at least peg Frazier for a 105 wRC+, nearly double the figure they forecast for Robinson, the man Frazier is most likely to replace. The baseline for Red Thunder is that he quite literally might be twice as good as Robinson, and there’s potential for more.

Frazier has also posted the best minor-league numbers of his life in 2018. There’s only so much to be learned from scouting the stat-line, but it’s certainly not a bad sign that Frazier has run a .311/.389/.566 line at Triple-A this year. He’s combined hitting for average, for power, and getting on base in a way that he never has before at any level.

Those numbers hint at the possibility that Frazier could be ready to break out in some small way. A healthy and productive Frazier would give them every chance to make sure Judge is recovered before bringing him back, and would help them continue to cement themselves as nothing worse than the first wild card in the AL.

At worst, a return from Frazier entirely excises Robinson from the lineup and gives the Yankees an easy way to rest their strained outfield. At best, the Yankees would be adding another impact option to the roster, and while it’s unlikely the addition of any one player will be enough to narrow the gap between them and the Red Sox, it helps to maintain the lead on the surging Athletics. In any event, just seeing a talented young player like Frazier get back on his feet would be a plus, for both the team and the individual.