Those who clamored for more playing time for Clint Frazier the past few years are all but certain of getting their wish this season.
Frazier — who became a favorite among Yankees fans almost immediately after the club made the outfielder the centerpiece of the Andrew Miller deal with Cleveland before the 2016 trade deadline — enters spring training with the everyday-player status he’s been chasing within reach.
"He has continued to reinforce that he is a force and has gotten better and better," general manager Brian Cashman said of the 26-year-old Frazier late last month during an appearance on WFAN’s Moose & Maggie show. "This past year is another testament to that. Going into this, without a doubt, he's solidified himself as the guy and he's been a guy who has been big for us. He's taken advantage of opportunities and improved on everything."
Frazier, whose bat speed Cashman famously described as "legendary" shortly after executing the trade for him in 2016, enters spring training with the starting job in leftfield his to lose. But it has been some road getting to that point.
After he debuted in 2017, Frazier’s 2018 got short-circuited in spring training when, during a late February game against the Pirates in Bradenton, Florida, he suffered a concussion when he ran into the outfield wall while pursuing a fly ball.
Frazier started 2019 well enough at the plate, but although he was considered an average to above- average outfielder in the minors, he developed what can only be called some version of the yips in the field.
He then angered more than a few in the organization — from teammates to staff to executives — with his handling of a June 16 demotion and subsequent reactions when he was bypassed at various call-up opportunities (Frazier eventually was recalled in 2019 when rosters expanded Sept. 1).
Then came 2020, a season unlike any other and one that started frustratingly enough for Frazier. He made the club in late July after three weeks of Spring Training II, but two days into the 60-game regular season, Frazier was optioned to the club’s alternate site in Moosic, Pennsylvania.
If Frazier felt he had been wronged this time, however, he kept it to himself. And when a chance presented itself Aug. 12 — when Giancarlo Stanton went to the injured list — Frazier proved ready. He had three hits, including a homer, in that day's game against the Braves, the start of a 33-game stretch in which he played regularly and hit .303 with eight homers, six doubles, a triple and a 1.097 OPS.
Though he slumped badly in the season’s final week, Frazier still finished the season hitting .267 with a more-than-solid .905 OPS. The fielding issues that were so glaring the year before were gone, too. Frazier’s defensive work even earned him finalist honors for the American League Gold Glove in right (Joey Gallo of the Rangers was the winner).
"He wasn’t a finished product when we acquired him, but he's closing the gap on that ceiling," Cashman said on WFAN. "Now that his concussion is in the past, you're seeing the real deal. He had a hell of a year and should be very proud of it. We're proud of him."