Several things unfolded for the Yankees yesterday, with a prize piece being added to the bullpen and a finale to the Sonny Gray offseason saga appearing imminent, but lost in that was a little feel good story for one of their young pieces. Clint Frazier announced on Twitter that he was now cleared to participate in spring training after suffering concussion symptoms throughout 2018. He said he would be competing to get a job on the major league roster. He also declared that he doesn’t like his “Red Thunder” nickname, but that’s a conversation for later.
Getting Frazier back after what was essentially a lost season is a big boost to one of the few question marks remaining for the Yankees 2019 lineup. Veteran Brett Gardner was brought back on a one-year, $7.5 million contract, but he lost some of his playing time to Andrew McCutchen last year after the latter was brought in during the waiver deadline. McCutchen is now gone after signing a three-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies this offseason, leaving Gardner and Frazier to win over Aaron Boone’s favor for Opening Day. There is also a consideration to be made for Giancarlo Stanton, and whether the Yankees want him to spend some more time in left field this season. As the roster is currently constructed, though, the majority of the starts would seem to go to the winner of this spring training competition.
This is a fight that Frazier stands a good chance in. Gardner brings a steady presence to the Yankees clubhouse, but 2018 was undoubtedly the worst year of his career as a starter. He slashed a career low .236/.322/.368 in 140 games, and particularly fell off in the second half of the season. Frazier didn’t get much playing time in the bigs last year, spending only 15 games with the Yankees, but his minor league stint showed promising numbers. In 54 games Frazier slashed .305/.388/.562 while primarily at the Triple-A level. He displayed good power and an ability to work walks at a rate more consistent with his career average than he did during his first Yankees stint in 2017.
At this point in his career, Frazier has shown that he is ready for the majors. The “legendary” bat speed that enticed Brian Cashman to make him the big piece coming to New York in the Andrew Miller deal has progressed him through the minors. He will surely still need improvement, but it will need to come against major-league pitching. The only debate is whether he will get that opportunity off of the bench in 2019, or if he can impress the coaching staff quickly enough to trust him with the starting spot.