The waiting is the hardest part.
Since the trade was made in 2016 sending Andrew Miller to Cleveland (that also netted Justus Sheffield) many in the Yankee Universe have been waiting for Clint Frazier to be an everyday player.
Due to injuries to other outfielders over the last 3 plus seasons we have been given glimpses of what he can and cannot do.
It hasn’t been an easy road for Frazier.
Photo by Corey Sipkin
In 2018 there was that self-inflicted injury when Frazier suffered a concussion when he ran full speed into the outfield wall while chasing down a fly ball in a Spring Training game in Bradenton, Florida against the Pirates. The injury drew many old timers to compare him to Pete Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers who shortened a promising career by routinely crashing into outfield walls.
In 2019 in what has become the year of the “next man up”, Frazier started impressively at the plate. What seemed like to many in the Yankee system as coming out of nowhere, the “above average” defensive player suddenly seemed to forget how to track down a fly ball and make the catch. Who could forget that Sunday Night ESPN game against the Red Sox while he was playing right field? It made me think of 2005 and Melky Cabrera.
He then made matters worse via interviews and social media posts with the way he accepted his June demotion to Scranton. As a result, he was bypassed numerous times for a call up when other players went down with injuries, eventually getting the call up when the rosters were allowed to expand to 40 on September first (a rule that has since been changed, thankfully).
Many speculated over that offseason that he had worn out his welcome in New York, and was destined to be moved.
Then came the infamous 2020. Following “summer camp” in July he was told he would head north and made the team. However only 2 days into the abbreviated 60-game regular season, he was stunningly optioned to the team’s alternate site in Pennsylvania.
Something clicked, or someone got into his head because he accepted the demotion and took on the challenge with a completely different attitude. He worked tirelessly and earned a call up on Aug. 12 when the often injured Giancarlo Stanton went to the injured list once again.
This time he was ready. With his signature full facial mask on, he slammed three hits, including a home run against the Braves, in his first day back on the team.
His performance started a stretch of 33 consecutive games of playing time, and he flourished by hitting .303 with eight home runs, six doubles, a triple and a 1.097 OPS over that stretch of games.
But this time, he also showed that he is a competent outfielder making some above average plays and even sprinkling in a few diving catches to accentuate the point.
Photo by Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
To the surprise of most in the league and media, his defense merited him being chosen as a finalist for the American League Gold Glove in right field, which was eventually won by Joey Gallo of the Rangers.
Now he has catapulted himself into being the odds on winner of a starting job in the Yankee outfield. An honor not to be taken lightly.
At 26 years old, and out of minor-league options, we will finally get a chance to see what the red head with “legendary” bat speed can do given 500 to 600 major league at bats. That is, if he stays healthy and Covid doesn’t ruin it for him, and us.
It appears his time is now!
Two weeks ago on the Moose and Maggie show on WFAN, Brian Cashman stated “Without a doubt, he’s solidified himself as the guy.”
A veteran scout recently commented “He deserves it. He’s earned a chance to start”.
“I could see him hitting 25 to 30 homers”.
In typical twenty something fashion, Frazier took to social media to celebrate the endorsement. Something I hope he lays off of in 2021.
Number 77 now enters a major league spring training with the starting job in left field his to lose.
Defense is the least difficult tool for players to improve upon. To do so it takes the willingness to put the work in. By all accounts he did so.
As a result of that work ethic, we saw that he made substantial improvements in the field last season.
Left field at Yankee Stadium is essentially a second center field due to its very large real estate.
In the past we have been given the pleasure of seeing Brett Gardner cover the vast field like a blanket.
The baton has now been passed to Frazier. He will not be another Gardner from a defensive perspective, but as a scout recently stated “The better he hits, the better his defense will look”.
With the recent signing of Jay Bruce, it looks less likely that Gardner will be back. His presence in the club house will be missed. He was the last link to the Championship 2009 team.
In sports, new leaders emerge when least expected. When Don Mattingly left in 1995, the Yankee universe was stunned, saddened and dismayed. Four short months later a skinny 21 year old showed up, Tony Fernandez broke his arm, and Derek Jeter lead the team for the next 20 years.
Who that next leader will be is unknown, but he is needed. We have watched this team fall flat in the playoffs since the “baby bombers” arrived for good in 2017. A leader is needed.
It will be interesting to see who steps up and leads.
It is possible that Brett Gardner could end up coming back. His recent playoff performances, leadership, and of course left-handed bat would make that an embraced signing.
Spring training starts this week, and it hasn’t happened yet.
Apparently a team worth $5 Billion has a budget of $210 million, and is unwilling to exceed it.
The Yankees may not have a leader anymore, but for now it appears that the Yankees have a new left fielder.
One we have been waiting for since 2016.
It was a bumpy road to get there, but apparently he has persevered and it is now staring him directly in the face.
How he reacts and handles it is an unknown at this point. We have seen the glimpses and little snap shots over the last few years, with mixed results.
The waiting is over and it’s now Frazier’s time to step up and put a stronghold on the position.
I am bullish on Frazier!
Now, if we could only get Justus Sheffield back!