As a prized prospect of the New York Yankees, one would assume Clint Frazier’s frightening battle with concussions last season made national news. And yet, I bet most of you didn’t know about this:
Clint Frazier said it was like being in “a state of euphoria,” though that barely describes what really happened to the Yankees outfielder last summer. A chronic concussion, which lingered for months, not only robbed Frazier of a year of his career but left him with black holes in his memory — entire swaths of 2018 he can’t recall.
“I felt like I wasn’t physically there, like something I couldn’t get out of. I was scared,” he said by telephone on Tuesday. “There were times I’d be driving, like I was on auto-pilot or something. I’d look around and think, ‘How did I get here?’ ”
Whoa. Concussions are typically viewed as an MMA, boxing, football or soccer problem, but the reality is sadly different. What happened to Frazier could happen to any outfielder — he crashed headfirst into the outfield wall attempting a diving catch during a Spring Training game. Unfortunately, it was labeled as a “mild concussion,” a terrible thing to say in any situation because all brain trauma is serious. This isn’t like a calf strain. In a sense, that phrase tainted Frazier’s 2018. He played in only 69 games last season across MLB, AAA and A+ ball.
Going into 2019, Frazier, 24, is optimistic about his health. Just look at what he tweeted after being cleared:
Isn’t that awesome?
In baseball terms, Clint Frazier is an outfielder and was a prized prospect. But it feels almost cruel to think of him only in those terms now. He’s a living, breathing human being full of hopes and fears, just like you and me. His story has really reminded me of that, especially in lieu of Yankee fans asking what Frazier might provide for the team in 2019. I’m going to gently get into that, but that’s not the story.
It’s simple. Clint Frazier is healthy, and that’s freaking awesome.
But, baseball rolls on. Given that the Bombers appear unlikely to sign Bryce Harper to man left field, Brett Gardner seems pegged for the role going into the season. Once an above-average regular, Gardner’s lost bat speed as all mid-30s hitters tend to do and is now really a fourth outfielder/pinch runner. He’s not a viable option for a World Series contender.
The obvious question is, what can Frazier provide?
The answer is no one knows. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. But the Yankees have clearly held Frazier in high-regard — GM Brian Cashman famously called Frazier’s bat speed “legendary” — and across baseball, he was routinely listed as a Top-50 prospect. There’s pedigree here.
But he’s also yet to have an extended look at the big league level. Aaron Judge’s injury last year presented an opportunity, but Frazier was injured, forcing Cashman to acquire Andrew McCutchen. Given Gardner’s age and the possibility of ineffectiveness, Frazier could see another window open this year.
As a prospect, Frazier profiled as (roughly) an above-average hitter, but a risky one. He’s dependent on carrying a high batting average to keep his on-base percentages high and to supplement an okay walk rate. Then again, his bat speed is ridiculous and might boost him into 20+ home runs. He’s got a future.
But for 2019, who knows what to expect? He could be a really valuable piece. He might not hit at all. Who is to say? I don’t know what the Yankees or Frazier expect out of the coming season. But, if the young outfielder can just stay healthy and get a year of regular playing time (either in New York or Scranton), it’d be a cause for celebration.