There were times I thought Clint Frazier would never be a Yankee. Then there were times when I thought he would never be a regular everyday player and part of the Yankees’ future. I have to think a lot of Yankees fans felt the same. A combination of Frazier being blocked positionally, frequent injuries and trade speculation made me think I would watch him realize his potential and become an All-Star-caliber player with another franchise.
The never-ending injury bug, which has destroyed the Yankees’ expected lineup, has forced Frazier into a starting role in the outfield and a middle-of-the-order spot in the order. Not only has Frazier responded to this opportunity by finally proving his status as the focal point of the Andrew Miller deal and that he belongs in the majors, he’s proved he belongs in the Yankees’ plans. He doesn’t belong as the headline for some package to acquire a rental starter at the trade deadline or a pitcher with a couple years of control. He belongs in the Yankees outfield.
In 18 games, Frazier has displayed the “legendary bat speed” Brian Cashman raves about. He has a team-leading six home runs and is batting .324/.342/.632. His .975 OPS in 73 plate appearances is even more impressive when you consider he missed virtually all of 2018 and desperately needed more at-bats and time to develop defensively in Triple-A. “He’s not a finished product,” Brian Cashman said on Monday to Mike Francesa. “He never got finished off because he missed an entire developmental year, so his experience at Triple-A is not extensive.” He’s still technically getting his reps in with the RailRiders since the Yankees are essentially them right now, they are just coming in major league games with the RailRiders.
Frazier recently mentioned his confidence is at “an all-time high” right now, and it should be. He has reiterated the “next guy up” slogan the Yankees are using to battle through the absence of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki on the position player side and Luis Severino and Dellin Betances from the pitching staff. Frazier asked, “Which guy’s going to be the hero tonight? Who’s going to be the one that steps up?” Most nights this season, it’s been him.
On Monday night (early Tuesday morning on the East Coast), Frazier slid awkwardly into second base on a pickoff attempt, rolling his ankle. I was in disbelief, but managed to hold in my anger and frustration to avoid waking up my fiancee and the neighbors, who had been sleeping for hours like normal people who don’t sacrifice their sleep and well-being to watch a baseball team. Was another Yankee really injured? Frazier grabbed his ankle and then hopped around near the base as Aaron Boone and Steve Donahue ran out of the dugout. Frazier was able to persuade Boone and Donahue to let him remain in the game, and after his ankle was tightly wrapped, he stayed in for the final innings, playing left field in for the 12th, 13th and 14th innings. After the game, Frazier said the injury wouldn’t keep him out of the lineup.
“It’s a little sprain, but it’s one of those things where I went through too much last year to not go out there and play. The IL is too full for us, so I’m good. I’m going to keep playing.”
I’m sure those comments frightened Boone, who is most likely going to give Frazier the day off on Tuesday. He was probably going to get the day off already as part of the Yankees’ scheduled off day initiative, which only helps to make more of a mockery out of their injury crisis. But no matter if the overcautious organization holds one of their few true bats out of the lineup for the second game of this nine-game road trip, those are the words you want to hear from your player.
“I kept telling myself, ‘Everything you got.’ Last year, that’s a real injury. [Tonight] I could still go out there, I could still walk, I could still contribute to this team.”
Could you ever envision Aaron Hicks saying something like that?
“I went through too much last year to not continue to stay out on that field. So a lot of things would have to go wrong for me to not play out there.”
All of this made me want to hug Frazier or possibly dye my hair red and get a nose ring like number 77. His words and determination to not miss time serve as a breath of fresh air for a team with the most players on the injured list in the majors, an injured list with players who frequently miss their return dates by weeks and sometimes months.
Frazier knows what it’s like to suffer a serious and significant injury for which there is no timetable for a return to the playing field or a normal livelihood. Thankfully, he was able to return to both. A sprained ankle? That’s not going to keep him out of the lineup if he gets his way. With the way he’s been living up to his first-round potential this season, Yankees fans need him to get his way.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!