NEW YORK (AP) — Clint Frazier wants to make sure his time as the New York Yankees’ future doesn’t stretch beyond four years. He also hopes to avoid skipping their present and moving directly to their past.
Frazier was acquired from Cleveland in the July 2016 deal for reliever Andrew Miller and viewed by the Yankees as one of their next big stars. Known for the shaggy red hair he had to cut to conform to the pinstriped sartorial code, he struggled to overcome cockiness and then brutal outfield defense.
Recalled from the limbo of New York’s alternate training site after Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge got hurt, the 25-year-old outfielder is hitting .571 (8 for 14) with two homers and eight RBIs in four games, distinctive not for his hair but for a team-logo gaiter that covers nearly his entire face.
“I’m still trying to find my role because I’m a human, and I look at a couple of weeks from now, whenever Stanton does come back, and where that puts me and I think that I at least have time between now and then to possibly establish a role,” Frazier said. “And I would hope that I make the most of it. I hope that I can at least get a couple chances to go out there and do my best, because that’s really all I’m asking for now.”
He drew attention during spring training in 2017 for a look more befitting Mick and Keith than Mickey and Yogi, a bright thatch of locks that taught him “hair is taken a lot more seriously than I thought.”
“I was the black sheep and the problem,” Frazier concluded.
When he debuted that July 1, Frazier became the first Yankee since 1913 to double and homer in his first major league game.
But he bounced up and down, blocked by a big league clubhouse filled with stars. His 2018 season was wrecked by a concussion, and he was set back against Boston on June 2 last year. Frazier let Eduardo Núñez’s sharp seventh-inning single get under his glove for a run-scoring two-base error, then dived and missed Andrew Benintendi’s liner that fell for a single as Brock Holt scored from first. One inning later, he took a bad route on Michael Chavis’ ball near the right-field line, letting it skip by for an RBI triple as fans booed.
No such jeers in the coronavirus-delayed season.
“No one in the stands made it pretty easy to go out there and just feel relaxed and try to have a good game,” Frazier said.
He was banished to the training complex at Scranton, Pennsylvania, after the second game, unneeded by a big league team that had Brett Gardner in center, Aaron Hicks in center, Judge in right and Stanton at designated hitter plus Mike Tauchman and Miguel Andújar as outfield backups.
“At times I wondered, am I going to make it back?” Frazier said.
But Stanton hasn’t played since Aug. 8 due to a strained hamstring and Judge has been sidelined since Aug. 11 by a strained calf. Frazier returned last Wednesday with a single, double and solo home run against Atlanta, then had a two-run single, double and three-run homer on Saturday night against the Red Sox.
“I’ve noticed some driving the ball to center and right-center more than he usually does, and with authority,” manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s worked his tail off really for the last couple of years to continue to give himself this opportunity. And, obviously, he’s taken advantage of it.”
Frazier knows how hard his path has been, how many of the obstacles were self-erected. He’s heard the talk of possible trades.
“There’s a lot of stuff that comes with being a New York Yankee. And I, unfortunately, found out the way to become a distraction in some areas,” he said. “I’m just here to try to find my role and fit that role and obviously try to perfect that role. And there’s just a lot of things that I went through that I don’t necessarily care to go through anymore and don’t want to have those conversations with people. And it’s about playing baseball, and we only had 60 games to do it, so I want to come here and try to make a splash.”
He credited Chris Iannetta, who started the season with the Yankees, for turning his attention to hitting the ball to right. Frazier hopes his outfield adventures are behind.
“I’m not out there to be a Gold Glover. I’m just trying to just make the simple plays,” Frazier said. “I, obviously, had a few mishaps last year, but I had a long offseason and a long coronavirus offseason, as well, to make up for some stuff that happened last year. I never really looked at myself as a bad outfielder. I just had a couple bad plays.”
Frazier has among the most unusual batting stances, with his front foot turned back toward the plate at a hard-to-comprehend angle. He’s shortened his stride.
“The coiled front legs allows me to keep everything behind the ball and just swing as hard as I can,” he said. “It’s just presetting in my lower half.”
And then there’s that scarf.
“There are times whenever it gets gets a little humid under there,” he said. “I’m just glad that everyone’s trying to stay safe during this.”
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