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Regaining faith in Clint Frazier

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Red Thunder has made strides in areas both on and off the field, but can he do enough to carve himself out a starting role in the crowded Yankees outfield?

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Clint Frazier is one of the more polarizing members of the Yankees. It seems half of fans want to see him traded every offseason and trade deadline, while the other half are clamoring for him to receive a real shot in the majors. While I suspect some will never warm to him, recent developments give hope that he may yet succeed.

The book on Frazier is that he prizes his individuality, and this hasn’t always ingratiated him to fans. Many question his effort level, his dedication to growth, or his commitment to the team. Whether or not you subscribe to this portrayal, it has made its way into the clubhouse.

Aaron Boone to his credit has done his best to squash the narrative. The skipper praised Frazier’s attitude in spring training, noting the work he put in on the back fields both offensively and defensively, and his “concentration, focus, [and] professionalism.” Acknowledging that Boone is generally positive about his players, this still feels like more than just paying lip service.

Stating that Frazier has turned the corner from a character standpoint operates under the premise that he had personality issues to begin with. While all ballplayers have room to grow, the extent to which Frazier suffered from a bad attitude was certainly overblown in the media.

From his hair, to the falsehood about requesting the number seven, to his cleats and social media presence, news outlets had a field day with their over-dramatization of his public persona. After his rough defensive outing against Boston, Frazier’s decision to snub reporters and prolong reporting to triple-A added fuel to this perception. The New York media needed a punching bag as an outlet for their ire and in Clint Frazier they found that target.

Frazier recognizes the negative publicity that has been attached to him and understands the steps he can take to resolve this. Speaking with Joe Bengino and Evan Roberts on WFAN, Frazier opened up about overcoming personal battles, especially lingering symptoms from his concussion. His thoughtful responses acknowledging how he can be better showed him to me in a different light, and I definitely recommend giving it a listen.

It is refreshing to hear Frazier’s admit to his struggles. It takes courage to publicly reveal such troubles, in particular the negative thoughts he was having and their effect on his play. Rather than dwell on his dilemma, Frazier has accepted the past and welcomes the task ahead of him. Looking at purely the on-field product, there are already signs that Frazier is moving forward.

Frazier was one of the best performers in Yankee spring training. In 33 plate appearances, Frazier sported a 1.055 OPS and exhibited improved control of the zone, drawing seven walks. He credits his refinement at the plate to a new batting stance, which was in part inspired by advice from former teammate Matt Holliday.

2019 batting stance
YouTube
2020 batting stance
YouTube

Frazier now has his front toe turned as far inward as possible, which allows him to generate maximum recoil on his swing. Before this change, he said that his legendary bat speed “never felt like it was always there,” saying “I felt like I was trying to shoot a gun with it on safety.” Hitting instructor Marcus Thames has noted the difference and applauded the fact that Frazier “worked his tail off” over the winter. The willingness to take advice and integrate it into his routine is another sign of Frazier’s maturation process.

Frazier has also looked competent in the outfield during the shorted spring training. Admittedly, Miguel Andujar’s rapid acclimation to left field calls into question Frazier’s prolonged struggles there. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say the effects of his concussion played a major role in his fielding woes. That being said, he still stands to benefit from eliminating the needless mistakes, including the ill-advised dives and wayward throws.

To be fair, the Yankees have always had the blueprint for Frazier’s success, but never had the opportunity to implement it. The biggest factor for Frazier is consistent at bats. In 2017, Frazier had his steadiest run as a regular in July, during which he slashed .270/.298/.539, good for an .837 OPS, 117 OPS+, and 115 wRC+. When he was seeing sustained playing time prior to the fateful game against Boston in 2019, Frazier hit .283/.330/.513, equalling an .843 OPS, 121 OPS+, and 117 wRC+.

Frazier performed abysmally at the plate when he was forced to ride the Scranton shuttle. This along with injury, the crowded outfield situation, and media noise, all worked against Frazier in his bid to prove himself in the majors.

The mercurial righty may have turned the page on an unsavory chapter of his Yankees career. Since his arrival from Cleveland, Clint Frazier has been in a state of limbo both on the roster and in front of the fan base. However, I have faith that he is finally ready to play a leading role on the big league stage.