Having too much depth on a roster, as the Yankees do with their outfield at the major league level, is a good problem to have.
But it is a problem.
Joining Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton is Clint Frazier, the crown jewel in the 2016 trade that sent Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians. He will claw for playing time, and while his lightning-quick right-handed swing can relieve Gardner from the occasional tough southpaw, it’s not yet strong enough to usurp left field, nor is it strong enough to take the defensively skilled but offensively struggling Hicks out of center.
The Yankees, however, will do themselves a great disservice if they don’t find playing time for the ultra-talented firebrand that is Frazier. If they don’t, there could be ramifications not only in the present but also the future.
There has only been one consistent outfielder for the Yankees, and that’s been Aaron Judge.
Both Gardner and Hicks have experienced early season swoons that have yielded little offensive production, but it seems as if Gardner is climbing out of the hole whilst Hicks remains mired. Gardner’s track record has proven that slow starts are common throughout his career, but such surety can’t be said for Hicks.
A strong 2017 showing for Hicks was cut short by two separate oblique injuries, one at the end of June and the other at the end of September. Evaluating the numbers show that the concept of a “breakout” year for the former 14th overall pick was a short-lived three-month hot stretch. The struggles that ended his 2017 season where he hit a combined .216 in August and September has followed him in the early going of 2018 to the tune of a .208/.319/.365 slash line.
Yes, Hicks’ value to the Yankees is his ability to patrol centerfield. The combination of speed, range, arm strength, and size makes him a formidable center fielder who can track down fly balls with the best of them. But he’s already spent time on the DL with an intercostal strain, and his offensive metrics are down across the board. His batting average against balls in play (BABIP) is at a career low of .233, while his 90.83 mph average exit velocity is hardly higher than the league average of 89.08 mph.
Clint Frazier’s performance in the minor leagues up to this point does not have the Statcast measurements to ensure this or that, but his expanded hitting statistics, such as his isolated power (ISO) and BABIP at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre could help counteract Hicks’ diminished numbers. It can be assumed, considering the lack of measured velocity from Frazier’s performance, that a .340 ISO and .483 BABIP results from his ability to hit the ball hard, a testament to raw power rated 60/60 and 40/50 hit ability by FanGraphs. There is concern about an inflated 28.8% strikeout rate but in his career, Frazier’s value is his ability to drive the ball, not his ability to work counts and get on base via the walk.
Offensively, the chance Frazier performs worse than what Hicks has, to this point, would be small. That’s not to say Frazier couldn’t find himself over-matched by big league pitching, but he could provide a secondary spark-plug much in the same way Gleyber Torres did when he was brought up. Besides, the Yankees can counteract the defensive loss of Hicks by moving Gardner, who has the speed and dependability, to centerfield and have Frazier man left field for an extended time.
The Yankees need to find out what kind of player they have on their hands.
Frazier, drafted fifth overall in the 2013 draft, has seen fellow draftees such as John Gray (Rockies) Kris Bryant (Cubs) and Aaron Judge establish promising starts to their careers. It remains to be seen whether Frazier’s career will be determined in pinstripes; a crowded outfield and rising prospect Estevan Florial could push him out of the Bronx at some point, but that can’t happen until Frazier establishes his ability to be an everyday big leaguer.
With every flash of his potential, there has also come the rollercoaster ride of a player with a big personality. The talent is undeniable; early performances such as this have endeared him with Yankee fans from the beginning, but the likelihood of him spending his career in pinstripes is, well, unlikely.
The Yankees need pitching. The rotation has been exposed by Jordan Montgomery’s injury and Sonny Gray’s ineffectiveness. The Yankees withheld from trading Frazier at the beginning of the season, but that could change as they seek to maintain and expand their half-game advantage over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East.
It’s too soon to determine what the market will look like come July. Teams that still vie for a postseason berth will inevitably fall from contention and will look to sell what remaining valuable pieces are left. That means the Yankees have until July 31st to showcase Frazier’s talent beyond the 40 game cameo in 2017. From now until then, they need to find a way to give Frazier as many at-bats as they can.
Because if he does well, that means the team wins. Both now, and in the future.
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