Frazier in the Red Zone

For sports aficionados the red zone concerns the potential for a team to score. For the past several weeks this term might be one you could apply to High Class-A Lynchburg outfielder Clint Frazier, the #2 prospect of the Cleveland Indians system.

He became the third individual 2015 Hillcats player to earn Carolina League Player of the Week honors, joining Bradley Zimmer and Nellie Rodriguez. For the week of July 13-19 he hit at a .462 clip with a double, two home runs, five RBI’s, four runs, and four stolen bases.

Asked about earning the award, Frazier said, “Winning the (Carolina League) player of the week award was awesome. I think it was the first time I’d won such an award in pro-ball.”

His only other award as a professional was a post-season All-Star nod in 2013 when he played in the Arizona Rookie League after signing with the Tribe.

The player of the week honor came in the midst of a 32 consecutive game on-base streak which ended on July 26th. This was the second longest in the league this season, bested only by Myrtle Beach’s Chesny Young, whose streak ended Sunday at 44 games.

Look at Frazier’s season a month ago though and you may not have thought he was one of the many top level prospects on this year’s Hillcats team.

He opened the season with respectable numbers for a 20-year old at the High-A level. Through 49 games, as May concluded, he had a .263 batting average with six homeruns and eleven doubles and had produced a triple slash line of .347/.416/.763. Not bad, but not what you might expect from a touted prospect.

The month of June saw Frazier fall into a funk, with his overall performance declining. As June concluded his batting average had fallen to .248, he had only added two additional homeruns to a total of eight, and his triple slash line had sunk to .343/.401/.744.

Furthermore he was prone to big swings and misses as he often looked like he was trying to hit the ball out of the park each at-bat. In 2014, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.88 (191 K’s to 56 BB’s). For April and May of this year it was much the same, at 2.7 (54 K’s to 20 BB’s). If you paid attention though, as he struggled through the month of June, the indicators were there that he was slowly making improvements. Through the end of June his K:BB ratio had improved to 2.3 (76 K’s to 33 BB).

Hitting coach Bobby Magallanes said about his work with Frazier, “He’s trying to be more controlled. Stay with the low line drive approach. He’s matured and come a long way. He is in the process of trying to become a better hitter, which is going to create homeruns in the long run.”

His improving plate discipline was the first sign of that development. His current K:BB ratio is now at 2.04 giving signs that Frazier is moving in the right direction as a hitter.

Asked about his changed approach to hitting, Frazier concurred with the thoughts of coach Magallanes. “I’m trying to become a more mature player at the plate. Pick and choose the spots that I think I can and cannot hit in. Taking my swings and misses down. Just trying to be patient at the plate and ready to attack the ball as well.”

As the summer advances and the end of July appears on the horizon, Frazier’s overall game has picked up substantially. Through 94 games Frazier’s numbers had moved into a more than respectable neighborhood. His batting average had climbed thirty points since the end of June to .278. He now has eleven homeruns, good for third overall in the Carolina League trailing only teammates Nellie Rodriguez (16) and Luigi Rodriguez (12). His triple slash line had risen to .369 / .442 / .811, and as you watch him at the plate and in the field he looks more comfortable and confident in playing the game.

“Overall I’ve been trying not to hit homeruns. I was trying to swing for the fences early in the year and I struck out a lot. I popped up a lot. Now I’m just trying to go out there and have fun, like when I was in little league.”

With his 32 game on-base streak, and his improved maturity at the plate and overall, Frazier is having fun playing the game again and it is showing in his performance. His resurgence has not just happened by chance, but has come by way of hard work during practice and pre-game sessions.

To improve his ability to make contact with pitches and cut down on his swings and misses, he and Magallanes have developed a set routine that he works on each day.

“We’ve been working on using my top hand a lot.” says Frazier. “When I was bottom hand dominant I had a longer swing and with the top hand dominant I can get the inside pitch a lot better. It allows me to create more backspin from my swing.”

This elevation in performance was never more evident than in the opening game of a short three game home stand against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Facing the Pelicans all-star starter Jonathan Martinez, the Hillcats lineup broke out the power sticks.

From the opening pitch, Martinez was leaving his offerings up in the strike zone, and it did not take long for the Hillcats to capitalize. First baseman Nellie Rodriguez hit a two run blast in the first inning, and followed with a solo shot in his second at-bat in the third inning. But it was the Frazier tater in the fourth that put the Hillcats ahead to stay and began a sweep of the three game series.
With one out and runners on second and third Frazier rifled the ball over the left center field fence for a three run tally which punctuated the poor showing by Martinez and led to his exit from the game at innings end.

“That game was fun.” said an obviously enthused Frazier. “Nellie set the tone for us by leading off with a homerun in his first at-bat. I got a pitch early in the count I could handle and hit it out. It was the game of the long ball. I hope we can do it again sometime.”

Overall the Hillcats tallied five homers, tying a team record for a single game, with the final pair coming on consecutive pitches, to two recent additions to the Hillcats roster, left fielder Dorssys Paulino and catcher Sicnarf Loopstok.

The Hillcats continue to battle their Northern division rivals for the top spot in the Carolina League, as the season nears the homestretch. Frazier’s improvement has played a significant role as he continues with the routines he and hitting coach Magallanes have developed.

“Continue following my pre-game routine,” says Frazier about his plan for the rest of the season, “go day-to-day, continue to come out here, have fun and make the most of every at-bat that I can.”

Frazier’s outstanding performance has energized his teammates and now it’s not just his offensive contributions that could be described as being in the red zone as the team contends for the top spot in the Carolina Leagues Northern Division and a berth in the playoffs. As he gets back to enjoying the game his on field success will bring excitement to the Hillcats fans and remind observers of his status as one of Cleveland’s up and coming talents.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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