As His Defense Improves, Clint Frazier Looks to Power Way Into Yankees' Lineup

Max Goodman

Clint Frazier slugged his first home run of the spring on Thursday, sending a 3-0 pitch over the concourse in left field at George M. Steinbrenner Field. A few more feet and the solo shot would have soared out of the stadium and into the parking lot.

It was only a matter of time until Frazier launched his first long ball of Spring Training. His powerful stroke was particularly timely, however, as it comes less than 24 hours after Giancarlo Stanton's latest injury – a Grade 1 strain in his right calf – was announced. 

The narrative effectively writes itself. Frazier embodies 'next man up' mentality, taking advantage of an opportunity early in Spring Training. To the 25-year-old with a few new tricks up his sleeve after a productive and diligent offseason, however, Frazier already is confidently setting his sights on a roster spot.

Yankees fans have grown accustomed to Frazier's flare. After all, he's played in the organization for close to four years now – as you may recall, the Bombers acquired him in 2016 from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller deal.

Frazier explained that this year feels different, unlike any other season of his professional career since he was the Indians' first-round draft pick in 2013.

"For myself, it feels like it’s my first time where I have a legitimate chance to break with the club," the outfielder said, beaming. "Every other year, I did, but as camp ended, it was probably not in the cards. Now it’s like, if I put myself in a good position, we’ll see what happens."

Tearing the cover of the ball would certainly help his case. He took pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt deep in live batting practice last week and has consistently rivaled sluggers like Gary Sánchez, Gleyber Torres and even Stanton with eye-popping rounds of BP.

Beyond some initial success in full-team workouts with his bat, however, Frazier has been hungry to prove himself with his glove. 

In 2019 – a season in which the Georgia native played a career-high 69 games – Frazier struggled at times on defense. Recalling his mistakes and embracing what he needed to work on, Frazier walked through what he focused on this offseason.

"I worked on some stuff in the offseason as far as my pre-pitches similar to the infielders where I have a little hop in my step before the ball is thrown," he explained. "Just to try to help create some athleticism for me because at times I started to feel like my feet were concreted to the ground, just stagnant in the outfield.

"I relayed it to how I hit. If you watch in the box, I have a lot of movement. It was really hard to go from zero to 100 so it’s kind of like I’m at 30 to 100 now. I call it revving my engine."

Clint Frazier misses the diving catch
Frazier had his fair share of miscues in the outfield in 2019. Rather than dwell on them, he's looking to move forward this season.Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Standing in front of his locker in the Yankees' clubhouse, Frazier bent his knees and demonstrated his new approach, describing that he's not the only defender to employ this new technique in their defensive game.

"I'm just in the outfield just standing there and then I hop. I feel good, I believe in that, I think a lot of people do believe in it as well," Frazier said. "I think it’s something that I can continue to work on and believe in it in the game

On Monday, in the Yankees' first exhibition game of the spring, Frazier got the start in left field. He promptly hauled in each of the three balls hit in his direction. After the game, the 25-year-old was glowing about the opportunity to showcase his progress.

"Things have been going great in practice, but practice is practice," he explained. "I was ready to see how I felt in a game and obviously it’s probably more about the defense than the offense and for the most part, I felt good out there. I caught all three balls, that’s all you can really build off of. I feel confident out there."

Frazier has started in the outfield in each of the Yankees' four home games thus far this spring. Sure, that's partly because of certain injury-induced absences – as Aaron Judge remains sidelined with discomfort in his throwing shoulder – but skipper Aaron Boone has taken notice of the outfielder's work ethic.

“He’s always worked. He’s always done a lot of good things,” Boone told reporters after New York's 7-1 win on Thursday. “He’s had some bumps along the way, but I’ve never questioned how hard he’s worked at things. I will say there’s been a real level of focus and professionalism, and early on, he’s getting good results out of it. I would say he’s in a really good place physically and mentally.”

With Stanton's status for Opening Day uncertain, and Judge working back to conservatively, the door appears open for New York's outfielders to jockey for playing time. 

That's been the case for Miguel Andújar as well – a third baseman by trade – who volunteered his defensive versatility as a means to find his name penciled in the starting lineup. Similar to Frazier, dedicating the offseason to making significant improvements on the defensive side of the ball is starting to pay huge dividends this spring.

READ: Could Miguel Andújar be the Yankees' replacement for Giancarlo Stanton in LF?

"Offseason was much needed," Frazier admitted. "Obviously everyone tries to get through things on a daily basis but it’s a little harder to get through it whenever it’s in front of 50 [thousand] fans and the millions that are watching away from the field. It was tough."

With development on defense, and an unwavering drive to be with the big-league club come Opening Day, Frazier's making a case for the Yankees' coaching staff to give him an opportunity this season. To Frazier, no matter what happens with injuries or anything else out of his control, he understands that he's doing his best to seize the day.

"Obviously there was no secret as to what I needed to work on, but I felt like my back was against the wall in the offseason and I had to fight to come into camp and prove myself and I feel good," Frazier said, dead set on impacting this championship-caliber roster. "I'm ready to fight."

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