Yankees outfielder prospect Clint Frazier takes a break during a recent practice day at the club’s minor-league complex in Tampa.
By Randy Miller
TAMPA — Clint Frazier, a big return in the Yankees‘ fire sale last summer, can’t wait to meet the established veteran who has the starting job that figures to be his some day.
Brett Gardner is still the Yankees’ left fielder of the present.
Frazier, one of baseball’s best prospects as a right-handed hitter with power, probably is their left fielder of the future.
When this changing of the guard will occur is anybody’s guess. Maybe it’ll go down this season, maybe not until next season, but none of that will matter this spring when Frazier, 22, hopes to bond with Gardner, 33.
Both are country boys — Gardner is from South Carolina, Frazier from Georgia — and perhaps can develop a big brother/little brother-like relationship.
Frazier and Gardner will be on the same field beginning Sunday when Yankees outfielders and infielders join the pitchers and catchers for a first full-squad spring training workout.
“I’m excited to meet Brett Gardner, a guy that I can probably learn some stuff from overall, and I want to see what he’s got to help me out there in the outfield,” Frazier told NJ Advance Media after a workout this week at the Yankees’ minor-league complex. “It’s his spot and he’s earned the right to go out there and have it every single day, so I’m going to try to do what I can to learn from that guy.”
This is the first big-league camp for Frazier, who was drafted fifth overall in 2013 by the Indians and traded to the Yankees last Aug. 1 in a 4-for-1 that sent All-Star reliever Andrew Miller to Cleveland.
“I think for me the biggest thing is take everything I can out of the guys that are here,” Frazier said. “You’ve got a lot of really good guys here.”
Gardner has been one of them, but his time with the Yankees appears to be running short. He has two seasons to go on a four-year, $52-million contract, but is a strong candidate to be moved anytime from now until the 2018 trade deadline for obvious reasons: Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is untradeable because of his monster contract.
And so, with the Yankees going young at some many areas and Frazier likely to be knocking at a first big-league chance in the next year or two, a starting job needs to open up.
“I want to play in the big leagues, and I’ve got to go out there and prove myself,” he said. “I’ve got to be a good teammate and a good player and stay healthy, so when all three of those things come together I think I’ve got a good chance to accomplish the dream.”
Frazier wasn’t satisfied with his 2016 progress, which nevertheless included a promotion from Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus before his trade. He missed about 20 games due to hamstring injuries and his hitting mechanics were out of whack following his trade, and that led to decent yet disappointing final numbers: .263 average, 16 homers, 55 RBIs in 119 games.
Frazier already is optimistic that he’ll be a lot better in 2017 because he’s fixed his timing issues over the winter and has felt great at the plate during recent batting practices.
“I can feel a difference in the way that I’m seeing the ball in BP,” Frazier said. “I’ve got pitches in live BP and it felt good. I felt like I was able to slow the ball down and kind of get back to myself. I didn’t swing, but it looked like a beach ball coming in.”
When Frazier swings, the ball can go a long way. Scouts rave about his bat speed, which some call legendary.
Frazier feels pressure to live up to his status as a top prospect — he’s ranked 24th by MLB Pipeline, 27th by ESPN’s Keith Law and 39th by Baseball America — but he says that “a lot of that was internal pressure that I put on myself” and that he’s “kind of gotten used to people coming out and expecting something out of me.”
Frazier isn’t campaigning to steal anyone’s job, but he is on a personal mission to get to the majors in 2017.
“I don’t know where I’m going to start, but I know where I want to finish,” he said.