The Situation: All of the stuff I wrote on Thursday about the Yankees using their vaunted prospect depth to cover position player injuries from Dustin Fowler’s Call-Up is still true. Throw on top of it that Fowler himself tore his patella tendon in his MLB debut, and the Yankees are now firing their last big hitting bullet from the farm, top outfield prospect Clint Frazier.
Background: Frazier was drafted fifth overall out of Loganville, Georgia in 2013 by Cleveland, four spots ahead of his high school rival and fellow Loganville native Austin Meadows. (Yes, a town of about ten thousand in suburban Georgia produced two top-ten draft pick outfielders in the same year, who have both become elite prospects.) Frazier steadily advanced through the Cleveland system, always hitting just a little less than you’d hope for given his draft status and immense talent, until he was traded to the Yankees in the Andrew Miller deal in July 2016, just after being promoted to Triple-A. Frazier struggled in Triple-A after the deal, but has hit a more acceptable .257/.345/.474 there this year. He’s made every BP 101 since being drafted, peaking at 16th before this season, good for the second spot in a loaded Yankees system.
Scouting: I keep writing up Frazier for various products, and I’m running out of adjectives to describe his bat speed. Let’s go with “among the best in baseball” this time. He takes amazingly fast, amazingly violent cuts at the ball. Combine that with easy plus raw power and an idea of what to do at the plate, and Frazier has as much hitting potential as you’re going to find in the minors. Yet he’s been unable to fully actualize that potential into game performance. There’s nothing hugely wrong with his hitting mechanics, but he does have the remnants of a once-prominent hitch that costs him a beat starting up and he doesn’t always handle good breaking stuff well. It adds up to just a little too much swing-and-miss—not a lot, and you keep hoping Frazier is going to work it out. But we might be sitting here in 2021 still waiting for the breakout to happen, while he’s merely an average-to-good hitter instead of the complementary superstar to Aaron Judge.
Defensively, Frazier’s transitioned out of center into the corners over the past two seasons, something that had been fully expected for years. He has enough arm to play right, but probably won’t see much time there given Judge’s existence. He’s an excellent overall athlete who is presently an above-average runner and a threat to steal double-digit bases.
Immediate Future: The Yankees wouldn’t be calling Frazier up if he wasn’t due regular at-bats, and they should have a lot of playing time available for him between LF and DH over the short-term. He may go back down when all the big name veterans return, but he could hit his way into staying, and should be a permanent regular no later than 2018. It’s probably worth noting that both Judge and Gary Sanchez had similarly tantalizing but frustrating hitting profiles at the time of their installation as full-time players and nearly immediately broke out into superstars; Frazier has that kind of upside as well. Whether or not he can get there remains to be seen. —Jarrett Seidler
Fantasy Impact: Dustin Fowler’s gruesome and awful injury opens the door for Frazier to get his shot, and he brings to the Bronx one of the higher-variance fantasy profiles in the high minors. The ceiling is as high as you can see when you look up into the belly of a crystal-blue sky: a power-and-speed monster capable of 30-20 seasons at his peak and annual runs at top-ten overall selections on draft day. As with most 22-year-olds, however, particularly those with histories of production that don’t quite jibe with their potential, it remains to be seen how the talent will translate against big-league pitching. Frazier has shown some encouraging progress at the dish this year at Triple A, both jumping his walk rate and cutting his whiff rate by a comparable and significant number of percentage points. That kind of growth shouldn’t be taken lightly in evaluating a top prospect’s ability to hang at the highest level, even as approaching with caution remains the smart play.
Bracketing Amed Rosario’s positional advantage and the specter of Yoan Moncada returning to The Show, Frazier has the best combination of fantasy skill and path to consistent, rest-of-the-season opportunity of any prospect yet to debut this year. The standard risks apply for a young hitter just breaking in, and there is most certainly a danger that his history of swing-and-miss resurfaces and carries the day in a bad way. But his is the kind of talent worth emptying the FAAB vaults for, given the value of a potential half-season of at-bats and a pretty clear path to everyday playing time if he proves his hit tool is good enough to play. —Wilson Karaman