TAMPA – "I'll be careful how I put it because I don't want to move anything," Clint Frazier preceded a comment Friday morning, and that, friends, marks the progress.
I asked Frazier, who was again fighting for a Yankees roster position, whether he was watching the competition and trying to figure out his chances. The odds, which are now naturally improving, since every major league squad has a 26th player, according to a collectively negotiated change.
"At some point I started the left field (for the Yankees)," continued the outfielder at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “And then I started the left field in (Triple-A) Scranton at another point. I have my eyes on this other point (starting with Yankees).
"… So I think in this spring training session, if I could go out there and do what I can do offensively and do what I know I can do defensively, I might move myself to another place not just focus on the 26th man. "
Think of this as the 2.0 version of comments – more respectful and refined – that Frazier made a year ago to track Brett Gardner's start in the left field job. Gardner is currently starting in midfield while Aaron Hicks is rehabilitating from surgery with Tommy John. Now Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman and maybe even Miguel Andujar stand as Fraziers competition.
Given the nature of baseball and the fact that both Stanton and Andujar have spent most of 2019 on the injured list, it would be stupid to write Frazier off as he enters his 25-year season, wouldn't it? It is far from too late to flower the fifth choice of the 2013 amateur design in pinstripes.
"Fraz has the chance to be a great player in this league," said manager Aaron Boone. "We want to be there for him and continue to help him grow in this game."
"He is a guy who has a lot of talent and I still think he has a very bright future ahead of him, a career ahead of him," Gardner said of Frazier. “He helped us a lot last year. Some big, big ways when we really needed it.
In 69 games in the big league last year, Frazier cut .267 / .317 / .489 with 12 homers, while he clicked on another 61 games in Scranton. As Gardner noted, Frazier had an OPS of 0.975 last April, when the injuries hit the club hardest, all the more impressive considering that the impact ruined 2018. His defense, as you will probably remember, has never been helpful.
"I tried to kick the door in, but I don't think I've kicked it in enough," said Frazier last year. "But I think I cracked it."
Yes, it remains a colorful quote. In a Yankees ecosystem where controversy has become an endangered species since Alex Rodriguez’s retirement, Frazier draws attention and generates clicks like no other. It would be fairly easy to argue that things like Frazier's famous 2017 spring training haircut, his skirmishes with the media last year, and his generally bold comments are part of the fire he brings to the field.
"Ultimately, you can't change who someone is," Gardner said.
"I have learned the reality of things in many ways," said Frazier, summing up his time as Yankee since arriving for Andrew Miller from the Indians in July 2016. "But I also think that if I lose who I am, it will probably affect you in the field. And that's the greatest thing about trying to be yourself without being distracted. And as we all know, distractions can stop.
"And I don't want to go through distractions. I don't want to worry about it anymore … I'm here so people just talk about baseball. I don't need the rest. This isn't the Yankees' reality TV show."
The reality of this spring is that Frazier sits next to Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada and Mike Ford on the squad bubble. Two of these four are likely to make the club when everyone is healthy.
However, all four figures get the chance to make a contribution. Stir good things for the Yankees. Could also aim (heavenly) at heaven, right? This is the only way to get there.