Change of scenery: Clint Frazier feels like he has a fresh start with Cubs
MESA, Ariz. — A change of scenery can be one of the most powerful weapons in sports.
Clint Frazier and the Cubs are hoping that’s the case with their new pairing.
Just before the lockout began on Dec. 1, the Cubs inked Frazier to a 1-year, $1.5 million deal. Eight days earlier, the New York Yankees released Frazier after more than 5 years in the organization.
As far as pedigree goes, Frazier is about as heralded as they come. He was the 5th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft out of Loganville High School and instantly found himself on top prospect lists around the game.
He topped out at No. 16 overall on Baseball Prospectus’ ranking prior to the 2017 season, which is the same year he made his MLB debut with the Yankees.
He was one of the centerpieces of the Andrew Miller trade in July 2016 when Cleveland acquired the dynamic reliever for Frazier and a trio of pitchers.
So why did the Yankees release a 27-year-old with that kind of resume?
Frazier has dealt with lingering symptoms from head injuries that began with a concussion in spring of 2018 when he ran into an outfield wall. He was shut down in the middle of last season with dizziness and vision issues and only appeared in 66 games.
When he was on the field, he hit .186 with a .633 OPS and the Yankees opted to designate him for assignment in December to clear room on their 40-man roster.
Frazier hopes those head issues are behind him.
“Right now, I’m in a pretty good spot physically and mentally,” he said. “You can never have too much knowledge on [head injuries]. I never knew much about it ’til I got one. … I didn’t have any education on it and it didn’t go the way that they said that it would. Mine was different.”
Part of the reason why Frazier feels in a good spot with the Cubs is the validation and empathy from the organization. His new manager, David Ross, dealt with concussions during his own playing career.
Ross has made it clear to Frazier that he is a resource and that the young outfielder should come to him if he starts to feel anything.
“It’s a comforting feeling knowing that I have people I can talk to and can understand because if you’ve never had one before, the symptoms don’t show up on MRIs, they don’t show up on CT scans — they don’t show up,” he said. “You just have to trust that the person’s telling you what they’re experiencing and believe in the player.
“It seems like in this organization, they take it really seriously and they don’t rush it and they believe you and they help you through the process the whole way.”
Frazier is hoping to put the head injuries and lingering symptoms in the rearview mirror and focus on his play on the field.
“I feel like I’m playing baseball for the first time,” he said. “I felt like I was in a reality TV show the last 5 years in New York with all the drama and how much news reporters were constantly following. It just feels good to come over here and focus on baseball for the first time.
“I learned that baseball is more than just baseball. There’s a lot to the business side that leaks into what happens every day on the field. So for me, I just wanted to get away from that and get over here and get a fresh start.”
Instead of fighting his own head and vertigo symptoms, Frazier is now fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
The Cubs have a crowded outfield picture but Frazier has a few things working in his favor.
For starters, there’s the impossibly quick bat speed, which was on full display in Wednesday’s Spring Training game at Sloan Park:
RT if you love home runs. pic.twitter.com/DcjNBYIMJH— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) March 30, 2022
With that homer, Frazier’s 2022 Cactus League batting line now reads: .316/.458/.579 in 19 at-bats.
“Clint’s played great,” Ross said. “The eye at the plate has really stood out to me. He knows the strike zone, commands it really well, willing to take his walks. Dealing with some adversity and you see the signs of a player that you’ve heard so much about.
“He’s had a great spring. Good defensively — better than I thought he was going to be. A really, really good knack for using the whole field.”
Then there’s the age (27) and the fact that Frazier is under team control for three more seasons. As the Cubs look to fill out the long-term roster picture, Frazier could certainly factor into that equation as he enters his prime.
There’s also the track record. In addition to the prospect hype, Frazier has had success at the big-league level before.
Before his struggles last season, he posted an .845 OPS (.267/.347/.497 slash line) in 108 games between the 2019-20 seasons in New York. He also hit 20 homers and 20 doubles in 406 plate appearances during that stretch.
The Cubs are hoping Frazier can get back to that form.
“When you go somewhere else and you’ve got something to prove and you feel like you fit in really fast, it’s always welcoming and that makes you feel really good as a player,” Ross said. “That’s the environment we’re trying to create for everybody.
“We want everybody to feel comfortable in being able to be themselves. I feel like that’s the best version we’re gonna get from each player if we can let them be themselves.”
In addition to how the organization has welcomed him so far, Frazier also felt like Wrigley Field and the history of the Cubs franchise was alluring.
His fiancé, Kaylee, played soccer at Loyola for four years — including 2016. So at the field, he can talk to holdovers from that World Series-winning team at the Cubs complex and at home, he has a person close to him who can speak to the intensity and passion that surrounds this organization.
“I’m excited to get a new environment to be in — one that I hope accepts me for who I am and one that wants me to be there,” Frazier said. “The fans, I know they’re electric. … I’m excited to get out there and see if I can hit one out of that stadium.”