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Yankees Mailbag: Clint Frazier’s future, pitching prospects, and Aaron Judge

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The answers to this week’s mailbag are in!

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Hello, everyone, and TGIF. We have a light mailbag today with only three questions. I tried to go in-depth on one to make it up for you. Remember to keep submitting questions for next week’s installment!

Many have asked: Why haven’t the Yankees called up Clint Frazier yet?

Frazier proves a hot topic around these parts. It seems like everyone has a strong opinion on his role with the team and what his future should hold. One group of fans demand his immediate call-up, while others want to see him traded at the earliest possible opportunity. It feels like no one is indifferent towards the outfielder.

Regardless of popular opinion, Frazier remains in the organization. He just isn’t on the big-league roster; instead he roams the outfield in Scranton Wilkes/Barre. Why have the Yankees held Frazier back when opportunities arose in the majors? A few possibilities come to mind:

  1. They wanted to trade him, but couldn’t find a deal. According to Jeff Passan, the Yankees offered Frazier in a number of proposals for a starter or a reliever. Frazier’s name surfaced in Robbie Ray trade rumors, but as it played out, the Diamondbacks asked for a package that expanded beyond the Yankees’ comfort zone. Perhaps the team expected to move Frazier at the deadline but nothing lined up. In that case, he could be a trade chip over the winter and doesn’t factor into any long-terms plans. It’s possible, but tough to say for sure.
  2. The club legitimately wants him to continue to develop. Mike Mazzeo reports that when the team optioned Frazier in June, a club official told him: “You haven’t finished off yet. Finish off the things you need to do, and you’re going to have a long career in the big leagues.” Frazier had a number of high-profile defensive miscues during his run in the majors this season. His bat plays, as evidenced by a 116 wRC+ in pinstripes in 2019. He also has a high ceiling at the plate, one the team saw a glimpse of in April (146 wRC+). The Yankees could believe they have an opportunity to hone Frazier’s defense in the minors, especially with Cameron Maybin and Mike Tauchman playing so well right now.
  3. It’s a service time issue. The Yankees, of course, could just be manipulating Frazier’s service time to gain an extra year of control. Frazier entered the season with one year and 57 days of service time (MLB defines a year as 172 days). He needs to avoid 344 days to delay his free agency. The team recalled him on April 1 and optioned him on June 17, meaning he spent 77 days on the major-league roster, bringing him up to one year and 135 days, or 307 total days. With 51 days remaining until the end of the season, that means he needs to spend 14 more days in the minors to avoid reaching two full years of service time. The earliest the Yankees can recall him then is August 23, and they will probably wait until September 1 for rosters to expand to avoid looking fishy.

Some fans have speculated that the Yankees have kept Frazier down to punish him for dodging reporters and taking a full 72 hours to report to Triple-A after the team optioned him. That makes for a dramatic and juicy story, but no concrete evidence exists to support it. Aaron Boone denies claims that Frazier is in the doghouse. The club also cannot reprimand Frazier for exercising a collectively bargained right.

The real reason for Frazier’s lengthy stay in Scranton is almost certainly complicated. There probably isn’t one specific reason, either, but a combination of all the factors listed above.

James Sullivan 77 asks: Do you see any pitchers in the minors who have a realistic shot of making an impact at the MLB level this year? If so, which ones do you think have a chance of making the postseason roster?

Deivi Garcia, the team’s top pitching prospect, stands out as the most exciting option. The 20-year-old has been on a meteoric rise through the minors this season, making it to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last month. The right-hander has struggled with the MLB ball used in Triple-A, pitching to a 6.26 ERA (6.80 FIP) with an enormous 2.35 HR/9 rate. That said, Brian Cashman indicated Garcia could be a September call-up. If he impresses during the audition, the team may opt to carry him in the playoffs. Stephen Tarpley made the postseason roster in 2018, after all.

Few other pitching prospects leap off the page. Jonathan Loaisiga technically counts, and it’s clear he will transition into a bullpen role. Tarpley also will come up when rosters expand, if not before then. Maybe Mike King and Ben Heller get a cup of coffee, if healthy, but the jury is out there. The big name to watch here is Garcia.

mkatz asks: I have never been a fan of Aaron Judge hitting second. It seems like he is tamping down his power numbers, realizing that hitting second is more about moving runners. I think he should be hitting cleanup and then you will see the power numbers again. Am I wrong?

Conventional wisdom once held that teams should stack their most potent bats third or fourth in the lineup. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig personified this during the Murderers’ Row days. That said, baseball has evolved. Teams now recognize that the top spots in the batting order receive more plate appearances over the course of a game, and subsequently, over the course of a season.

There exists a case to be made for Judge to bat leadoff, since he represents the team’s most dangerous hitter. One would want him to receive the most plate appearances, right? The team appears committed to DJ LeMahieu, though, and that’s probably a good call. He’s done a great job in that role this season; there’s no need to shake things up. Leave Judge in the two-hole and maximize his appearances.

His power dip is certainly concerning, but I’m not sure how much that has to do with the batting order. He has seen his groundball rate climb significantly this season, and that leads me to believe it’s a mechanical issue. Given how hard he hits the ball, if Judge starts to loft pitches, his prodigious power game should resurface.