TAMPA — Thirty-nine games in 2017. Fifteen in 2018. Sixty-nine in 2019. Thirty-nine in 2020.
Add those up, and you get Clint Frazier’s low bar, in his mind, to clear.
“I know in my career I have 162 games played, exactly,” the Yankees left fielder said, correctly, Thursday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “And I’m hitting .258 with 24 [home runs] and 82 [RBIs]. So to know that over the course of [four] years, where I didn’t get a consistent amount of at-bats and that’s the numbers I put together, I feel really good about the numbers in my head that I kind of have, looking at those numbers. Especially with the progress I feel like I’ve made in some areas of my game.”
The fifth-overall pick of the 2013 draft, the key name in one of the Yankees’ rare “sell” trades in the last 28 years, Frazier has not accomplished the meteoric rise that once was forecast for him. It has proven to be more of an arduous trudge, peaks blended with valleys.
At 26, however, the redhead Frazier remains a fiery meteor. And he sure looks ready, finally and fully, to rise.
“I think as we sit here right now, he’s come in really good shape, you continue to see a more and more polished player with a lot of talent,” Aaron Boone said.
“It feels good to know that 2021 is a little bit of a different feeling than it has been in years past,” Frazier said. “I feel, very much so, like a part of this team moving forward and I’m really excited, to be honest. I’m thrilled.”
Boone said last week that Frazier would be his starting left fielder this season, and last week’s re-signing of Brett Gardner, a Frazier mentor, didn’t change that. It’s the right call. Frazier, while splitting time between the majors and minors each of the prior four seasons, accrued enough big league service time to make himself eligible for arbitration. His $2.1 million salary, his obvious talent and his strong 2020 performance mean it’s time to see what the young man can do.
“I try not to think that I’m going to come into the season and just hit 60 home runs because of the way the offseason went,” Frazier said. “I think for me, the thing that I’m most excited about is the possibility to get a full season of at-bats. Really just to see kind of what I’m capable of because I do in my mind have expectations that I’d like to see come to fruition and the game is hard. It’s a lot harder, I feel like, playing in New York. But I feel like the last couple of years have prepared me for what it’s like to have highs and what it’s like to have lows and really how to find that happy medium to just go about my business the right way.”
You know about the highs (many big hits, the fan love) and the lows (the hair controversy, media battles, defensive struggles). Frazier appears stronger for the roller-coaster ride.
“It definitely feels good knowing, whenever I walk into a locker room, that I don’t have eyes on me for something that I possibly did that caused other people to answer questions,” said Frazier, whom the Yankees acquired from Cleveland for Andrew Miller in 2016. “I feel like I’ve grown up. I feel like I’m a part of this team now and that everything that happened in the past obviously happened for a reason and I’m still thrilled to be with this team because it is the greatest team, I feel like, to play for. You learn from those things.
“I don’t want to be a guy that’s a distraction, I just want to be a guy who has fun and maintains who he is through this process and ultimately is a good teammate to everyone who comes around me.”
Injuries happen, and baseball happens. No guarantees exist in this game. Nevertheless, the opportunity to see what Frazier can do in a real shot on this stage, a full season if not all 162 games, tantalizes. How high can his bar go? Can’t wait to see this climb.