The Cleveland Indians outfield is quickly becoming the main point of discussion as the season opening crawls closer and closer – and the minor league outfielders who are top prospects within the organization are getting some attention as their time to shine may be growing closer by the day. Among those prospects is the organization’s favorite redhead, the Georgia-native Clint Frazier. Frazier was drafted by the Indians out of Loganville High School in the 2013 Draft; he was the fifth overall pick and signed with the Tribe at age 18 to begin his professional baseball journey.
Primarily a center fielder, Frazier’s real draw has always been his hitting. He was known as a home run hitter while in high school and impressed teams with the 47 home runs he hit during his senior year of high school alone. He had a .485 average during that year and struck out eight times.
Frazier is right-handed, which immediately conjures up notions of the elusive “Right-Handed Power Bat” Tribe fans are so convinced the Indians need to sign. However, he struggled a bit during his first full season with the organization, which he spent with the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, Ohio, in 2014. He hit one home run total between April and May of 2014, which put a bit of a damper on his self-confidence. Then 19, Frazier suffered from spending too much time inside his own head, convincing himself that he needed to hit a home run in every at bat like he did in high school. As the season went on, however, Frazier realized that not hitting home runs didn’t mean he was failing – he was facing older, stronger pitchers than he did during his high school campaigns, and he couldn’t rely on sheer talent to do well; he had to work to achieve the results he wanted.
After putting in the effort to adapt his swing to the pitching he faced in Low-A ball, Frazier began to regain his composure as the power hitter he was drafted to be. He hit a total of 13 home runs during the 2014 season and hit .346 with runners in scoring position, proving to be an asset to his teammates. 2014 had the Captains advancing to the Midwest League Championship series, which Frazier played no small part in helping do.
As Frazier has continued through the Indians system, it has become obvious that the now 21-year-old isn’t a player who is going to fly through the ranks. While he is strong and powerful in his performance – he impressed Indians hitting coach Matt Quatraro during the Arizona Fall League this past year with his bat speed – Frazier seems to need time to settle in to each level at which he plays. He spent 2015 in Lynchburg with the Hillcats, and again hit no home runs during the month of April. He rebounded quicker, hitting six in May, but again showed that his power takes time to build up once he gets adjusted to the pitchers he is facing.
Frazier’s power, of course, also means that he boasts stats high in strikeouts. He struck out 161 times in 474 at-bats in 2014 and 125 times in 501 at-bats in 2015. While many power hitters have high strikeout rates simply due to the fact that they are swinging for the fences in many at-bats, Frazier’s age also plays into that performance. He has matured his swing while with the Indians and has come to understand that he won’t blast the ball out of the park every time, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfected his approach. As he continues to face more difficult pitching and refines his swing even more, his at-bats will likely improve and, with that, his strikeout rate will decrease.
Frazier has many of the tools the Indians are looking for in their big league players. He has demonstrated, though, that he isn’t one to move through the system for sake of advancing – he works at each level to refine his performance, and uses the time to his advantage. Frazier will likely start the year in AA Akron, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he spent the whole season there, maybe spare for an end-of-the-season promotion to fill holes in playoff rosters. It’s likely Frazier won’t be seen at Progressive Field in a big league uniform until 2018, though a late 2017 appearance isn’t out of the question. He has the skills the organization wants – but rushing him may mean losing the development piece on which Frazier has shown he thrives.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer