In some ways, Todd Frazier is still that 12-year old kid who seemed to get every big hit in leading his team from Toms River, N.J. to the Little League World Series championship. He has a Derek Jeter-like confidence, in fact, that oozes out of him even when he’s hitting .209 for the season.
“Ever since I was little, I know that pitcher out there doesn’t want to face me,’’ Frazier was saying before Tuesday night’s rainout. “That’s just how I think.
“Whatever I’m hitting right now, it’s not where I want to be in terms of my average. But when I’m up there in a clutch situation like (Monday night against Corey Kluber), I feel like I’m one of the top guys you want up there.”
Frazier indeed delivered a line single to left against Kluber to put the Yankees ahead at the time, yet he’s only hitting .188 with runners in scoring position this season, and his overall numbers have major-league scouts scratching their heads, wondering what happened to the guy who as recently as 2015 looked like he was going to be an All-Star for years to come.
“He was always a pull hitter but at some point his swing got a little long,’’ says a scout who has seen Frazier since he was starring at Rutgers. “Maybe because he started hitting more home runs, but the longer swing has affected his ability to make consistent contact because he has to pull the trigger sooner.
“It’s odd because he’s walking more now so he’s seeing the ball ok, but his approach is off. I keep waiting for him to fix it and go on a tear, but he can’t seem to figure it out.”
That may well sum up the feeling of Yankee fans as well. Frazier did make the All-Star team in 2014 and ’15 while playing with the Reds, and won the home run derby in Cincinnati, and in part because he has a big personality as well, his star status largely overshadowed his poor numbers for the White Sox this season.
The thinking among at least some baseball people, including the aforementioned scout, was that Frazier would be better after escaping the losing environment around the White Sox, and raise his game on the big stage in the Bronx, essentially a homecoming for him.
Yet he’s hitting only .214 since coming over in the trade six weeks ago, with five home runs (21 for the season, a double and a triple.
On the other hand, Frazier has played brilliant defensively at third base, and he has taken enough walks to have a .345 on-base percentage. He just hasn’t hit the way the Yankees hoped, and with Greg Bird back at first base, there will be days Joe Giardi will have to choose between him and Chase Headley, who has swung the bat well lately.
Frazier seems unfazed at the mention of it.
“It’s a good problem to have,’’ he said. “I’m looking at just trying to win here. I haven’t really thought about it until you bright it up, if you want to know the truth.
“Maybe if I was 25 or 26, it would be something to think about. But I’m at a place (at age 31) where I know my ability, I know what I can do. At the end of the day, I’ll be right where I need to be.”
Frazier says all of this with such an easy, casual confidence, that he really does remind me of talking to Jeter over the years. Frazier is just a lot more open, willing to offer more detail about the ups and downs of hitting.
When I ask him if he got home-run happy as he began hitting 30-plus long balls in Cincinnati, he didn’t flinch.
“It’s a fair question, but I don’t think so. In 2015 I had 43 doubles.”
But then he smiled.
“I do like hitting home runs, though. That’s the king of all hits, right there. I’m looking for that good feeling but, man, baseball is the hardest game in the world.
“I like to talk to guys about hitting. In Cincinnati I talked to Eric Davis, I talked to Pete Rose. Even Pete, as great a hitter as he was, said he was always tinkering with something.
“I’m always tinkering too. I have to keep working on my swing every day. It’s not the best swing in the world, but it’s not the worst. When I’m on, I’m still with my head and my timing’s right where it needs to be.”
Frazier said he’s been locked in at the plate in a game here and there, but he continues to search. On Monday he set up a pitching machine to throw 95 mph from 45 feet as a drill of sorts.
“It forces you to shorten your stride,’’ he said. “And it gets everything else out of your mind. You get your foot down and go, and for me, when I’m on time with that front foot, then you can see the off-speed stuff better.”
Frazier makes the case that he’s only one at-bat, maybe one pitch from having it all click for him again. This deep into the season, a major turnaround seems unlikely, but I came away from talking to him convinced of one thing for sure:
He believes it.
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