On Opening Day of 2015 it was likely that only diehard fans of the Cleveland Indians would have known the name Clint Frazier. The organization’s first round draft pick (2013) had completed his first full season in the minors and second season overall with enough success to place him third in the Baseball America ranking of Tribe prospects.
Opening the season on the High Class-A Lynchburg Hillcats roster, he and fellow outfield prospect Bradley Zimmer shared outfield duties alternating between center field and right field. Unlike Zimmer, who got off to a hot start with the Hillcats, Frazier limped out of the gate with a .263 batting average, six home runs, eleven doubles, and a triple slash line of .347/.416/.744 through April and May – not necessarily poor numbers for the High-A Carolina League, but not the kind of performance that one would expect from a highly touted pick out of high school.
Watching Frazier’s performance early in the season you could tell he was frustrated with his average performance, breaking his bat over his knee several times following a strikeout, ala Bo Jackson. But Frazier had an ace in the hole in Hillcats hitting coach Bobby Magallanes.
From June onward Frazier transformed his season. He began by controlling the strike zone more effectively, crediting his work with Magallanes. “Really focusing on my pre-game work with Bobby. He and I developed a routine that I’m following each day and it’s helping me to stay on track with what I want to accomplish at the plate.”
By the end of June, looking at his overall numbers would not have given you a sign that Frazier was on the upswing, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio significantly improved, from 2.7 through May to 2.3 by the end of June. This trend presaged his impending breakout.
From July on his bat really came to life after his move down in the batting order to the three hole following the promotion of Zimmer to AA Akron.
He won the Carolina League Player of the Week for July 13-19, the first of three Carolina League awards he would earn in 2015. This coincided with a team surge as the Hillcats began a march to first place in the standings. Frazier was clearly developing as a team leader during this surge. He followed up his first player of the week honors duplicating the feat for the period of August 3 -9, the two awards bookending a four-week stretch where a Hillcat won the award each week.
Frazier’s performance also captured the Cleveland Indians Player of the Month honors and Carolina League Player of the Month for July. In the space of four weeks Frazier had gone from a first round draft pick who was performing adequately, to one of the hottest players in the Indians farm system winning four awards for his offensive performance.
What turned around his performance were the adjustments he made on his routines during batting practice and in the cage. Early in the season he was swinging from his heels, creating openings in a long swing that pitchers could exploit.
He spent time working with Magallanes learning to use his top hand to control the bat and give himself better control of his swing and the strike zone.
“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.” said Frazier.
About Frazier, coach Magallanes said, “We just try to keep him positive and in a good position to hit. Staying through the ball and getting on time. He was late at times, so just making sure his hands get ready to fire on time and stay through the baseball.”
He finished the 2015 season playing in 133 games, collecting a .285 batting average, 16 home runs, 36 doubles, 233 total bases and a triple slash line of .364/.449/.813. He added 30 stolen bases in 45 attempts, and also contributed in the field with a .978 fielding percentage and three outfield assists. His 36 doubles led the Carolina League, one ahead of teammate Mike Papi.
His success garnered a winter league assignment to the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League. There, Frazier amassed a stat line of a .281 batting average with seven walks, three home runs, and eight RBI in 22 games. Not spectacular, but a reasonably effective showing for a young prospect.
His success over the past year and his advancing maturity will keep him near the top of the Cleveland Indians prospect lists as Spring Training of 2016 draws near.
“He’s learning to use the whole field, the big part of the field, what any good hitter is going to do.” said Lynchburg manager Mark Budzinski. “Along with that he has really improved in all facets of the game, defensively taking better routes, making good throws to bases, baserunning by being aggressive in the right situations. Becoming a complete player.”
His work should earn him a position on the 2016 AA Akron Rubberducks roster. If he can capitalize on his past performance with the Hillcats and in the fall league, he has a chance to be knocking on the door of Progressive Field by next September.
“Overall I’m just trying to become a better hitter. When I can maximize my potential at the plate to bring out my power numbers, I have a chance of hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” says Frazier.
The 21-year old is poised to explode on the prospect scene if he can continue the habits that moved him from good to excellent during the 2015 season. He clearly has the tools and the talent, now it is up to Frazier to maintain his status as a name to know in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Photo: Lee Luther Jr./The News & Advance