In the fourth inning of Wednesday night’s game, RubberDucks outfielder Clint Frazier destroyed a baseball, sending it deep into the Akron evening sky to give the club their first of two runs on the night in a 9-2 loss against the Erie SeaWolves.
The mammoth clout is just one of numerous feats of skill and strength shown by one of the Cleveland Indians’ top prospects and a player to whom the team has hitched its future.
With the barrage of injuries and suspensions that have afflicted the Indians outfield depth throughout the first two and a half months of the season, there are some out there who have called for the Cleveland front office to take a look at Frazier or his Akron teammate, Bradley Zimmer, to help resolve the lack of fear being placed on opposing pitchers by the slew of unimposing, lesser intimidating options being used by the Tribe to patrol the big expanses of green grass around the country’s Major League ball parks.
So, is it time to give the 21-year-old Frazier a shot at MLB pitching?
Cleveland’s first round pick and the fifth player taken overall in the 2013 draft, straight out of Loganville High School in Georgia, Frazier is the future. But before everyone gets all gung ho about trying to jump the young slugger over the top level of the minors, what is the harm in getting him up to Columbus as soon as possible to get a quick taste of Triple-A pitching? There, the talent would at least be a blend of future potential MLBers and a cast of would-bes, could-bes, and has-beens. If he handles the move with few to no issues, bring him up for the stretch run.
The Indians have not exactly made it a big habit in recent memory of ignoring the possible benefits of the Triple-A experience. Jose Ramirez made the rare jump over Columbus in 2013, but that particular Indians team, in a mad dash to the finish line pursuing a playoff berth, needed some pinch-running speed and a player capable of dropping down bunts off of the bench when the rosters expanded in September that season. Ramirez handled the role admirably, but his efforts at the plate in each of the next two seasons got him that trip to Columbus after all after dreadful starts to each of those year’s campaigns.
Given how that early call to Ramirez, then just days before his 21st birthday, turned out initially, the Indians may be reluctant to push their future stars to the Majors quicker than needed.
If Frazier came to Cleveland now, there too is the matter of where he would play.
Frazier has split time in all three outfield spots this season, with the majority of the starts coming in right field, where he has played better. The Indians currently have Lonnie Chisenhall keeping the spot warm for his arrival, and Chisenhall’s outfield experience is limited to just a handful of professional appearances in spots not in the right field corner. Center field already has Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin fighting for time, and the Indians will have to figure out what to do with another center fielder, Abraham Almonte, when his 80-game suspension comes to an end. In left field, the vacancy created by the injury to Michael Brantley has been plugged primarily by super utility man Ramirez, with Davis spotting him occasionally.
The most logical spot would be right field, maybe forcing a platoon at best with Chisenhall, given the Indians’ reluctance to move from their former first rounder from the 2008 draft class.
With that said, if Brantley is lost for more time than the Tribe front office is leading on and external upgrades are not worth their elevated deadline costs, parking Frazier somewhere in the outfield could plug a hole.
The discussion on Frazier and Zimmer as Major Leaguers was elevated some on Wednesday, when Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti made mention in an interview on “Power Alley” on MLB Network Radio that both prospects “have become options”, but added that “whether that becomes the latter part of this year, we’ll see.”
Antonetti says that Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier have become options "whether that becomes the latter part of this year we'll see."
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) June 15, 2016
Fire up that social media hype and hot takes machine, because things just got real.
Sure, calling up Frazier or Zimmer or even both sometime in the coming summer months could potentially fill needs in the Indians outfield (and start their service clocks…). Both are clearly skilled (and still prospects), but neither has had a progression through the farm system devoid of struggles.
Frazier was drafted first, joining the organization in 2013. He played in the Arizona League that season before giving Class-A and Lake County a go in 2014 and enduring a trying season at Lynchburg in 2015, one that ultimately ended with solid numbers at the plate. He showed some power (16 homers and 36 doubles), drove in runs (72 of them), and in the end tallied a good average (.285) and on-base percentage (.377) while striking out 36 fewer times in 46 more plate appearances.
Zimmer, 23, came on board when selected 21st in 2014 out of the University of San Francisco. He spent time at both Mahoning Valley and Lake County later that year and played the first half of last season with Lynchburg before a promotion to Akron. He was hurt in the second half and his numbers suffered in his Double-A trial, and they have not reached the levels expected of him this season, as some of his offensive contributions have been down this season in his second look with the RubberDucks (.233/.357/.475, 12 doubles, six triples, ten homers, 38 RBI, 21 of 30 stealing bases). Strikeouts are an issue, as he is missing at a high pace, getting retired with the unproductive out 81 times, tied for the second-most in the Eastern League (and trailing teammate Nellie Rodriguez).
Frazier has been a near model of consistency, almost begging to question what has delayed a promotion to Triple-A. Cleveland currently has Joey Butler, Michael Choice, and Collin Cowgill manning the outfield in Columbus, with former Clippers Naquin and Michael Martinez already plugging leaks in the Indians’ outfield dam. Former RubberDucks Bryson Myles and Jordan Smith have also eaten innings on the Triple-A roster, but none of those players would presumably be standing in the way of a transfer of Frazier to the top level of the team’s minor league system.
The Indians number two prospect behind Zimmer hit in eleven straight to start the year, then in eight more, giving him hits in 19 of 20 games in April while slashing .274/.319/.488. He reached base safely via hit or walk in each of his first 22 games of the season (April 7 to May 2).
Frazier had hitting streaks of six and seven games in May, playing in 22 games while also missing a week with a hamstring injury. He started another on-base streak of 24 consecutive games from May 5 to June 7. His May slash was a healthy .350/.475/.588.
By comparison, his June contributions thus far (.292/.397/.417) are down, but are hardly mediocre. Since failing to reach base safely for just the third time in 55 games this season on June 8, he has reached in seven more.
If a complaint could be made about his numbers this season, it would be the six errors that he has been credited in the outfield. Three have come in eleven games in center, two more in 16 games in left, and one in 20 games in right.
The right-handed and top-of-the-order hitter has seen little issue in his splits. In 51 at bats against lefties, he has posted a .314/.379/.510 line with four doubles, two homers, and three RBI while striking out 12 times versus six walks. Against right-handers in 161 at bats, those numbers are .304/.405/.509 with 16 doubles, a triple, five homers, and 28 RBI while striking out 39 times against 26 walks.
One of the telling signs of his development at the plate has been the change in the rates at which he has walked and struck out.
His walks per plate appearance rate has steadily climbed, from 8.67% in 2013 (Arizona League) to 10.33% in 2014 (Lake County) to 11.56% last season (at Lynchburg) to 12.96% this season.
And his strikeout rate per plate appearance? Steadily decreasing – from 31.12% of his plate appearances in 2013 to 29.70% in 2014 to 21.26% in 2015 to just 20.32% at Akron.
Zimmer, this season, is striking out in 30.34% of his trips to the plate while walking at a 13.48% clip. His strikeout rate was 15.71% in 2014 and 23.86% in 2015, while his walk rate was 10.00% in 2014 and 10.02% last year.
Given Frazier’s numbers, it is hard to imagine that he won’t be representing the hometown RubberDucks in the Eastern League All-Star Game on July 13…
Unless, that is, he is playing for the Columbus Clippers, something that shouldn’t wait until a midseason exhibition game. And it shouldn’t be prevented because he is on the Indians roster, not yet at least.
But one thing feels certain – the Frazier era in Cleveland is getting closer by the day and could happen before the year is done.