TAMPA, Fla. – Already, this is Clint Frazier’s fourth Yankees camp, though it feels more like three.
“To be honest, I can’t even remember the 2018 one,’’ said Frazier, referring to a concussion he suffered in that spring training.
“It feels weird to think I was with another organization at one point.’’
Once a Cleveland Indians farmhand, Frazier has experienced too much drama and not enough sustained success as a talented but star-crossed figure in Yankees Universe.
That’s why he’s aiming to let his performance speak for him this spring.
“I think that all eyes are on me in the outfield, for the right reasons. Or, I guess, the wrong reasons,’’ Frazier said, a reference to his defensive struggles in 2019.
And yet, “I know that it’s not just about defense. I have to show that I can still hit at the major league level and do it on a consistent basis.’’
Testing the latest tweak to his swing, Frazier blasted his first home run of the exhibition season on Thursday afternoon, in a 7-1 win against the Tampa Bay Rays at Steinbrenner Field.
A few days earlier, Frazier mentioned that his chances of making the Yankees roster were either “not in the books or not in the cards’’ during previous spring trainings.
Now, “it’s my first time where I have a legitimate chance to break with the club.’’
Ready to fight
For someone with fewer than 400 MLB at-bats, Frazier’s brief career has played like a binge-worthy reality series.
There was the controversy over cutting his signature, flowing red hair in his initial camp.
There was the concussion that wrecked his 2018 season, banging his head against an outfield wall during an exhibition game.
There was the accountability issue of 2019, when he avoided the media after a rough defensive night against the Red Sox, then doubled down by saying he had no regrets.
The picture of an isolated Frazier expanded with every cryptic tweet or Instagram post, feeding speculation that his Bronx days were numbered.
“I felt like my back was against the wall in the offseason,’’ Frazier said earlier this week. “And I had to fight to come into camp and prove myself, and I feel good.
“I’m ready to fight.’’
The 2020 reboot
Defensively, Frazier is moving before the pitch – “I call it revving my engine’’ – to avoid that stuck-in-concrete feel, allowing him to get a better jump on the ball.
At the plate, Frazier has turned his left heel at the pitcher, virtually eliminating any stride.
“The big thing is just trying to stay behind the ball,’’ Frazier said. “And that awkward position gives me my best chance right now.’’
And suddenly, here is Frazier’s best chance at cracking an outfield where Giancarlo Stanton (strained right calf) might begin on the injured list and Aaron Judge (right shoulder maintenance) has yet to play a Grapefruit League game.
"Coming into camp, I knew it was going to be an uphill battle to try to win a spot,'' Frazier said. "And a few things have happened since I got here to probably make it a little more attainable.
“But I still have to finish the camp healthy, I still have to perform.''
Accentuate the positive
An ankle injury, suffered at Anaheim last April, altered Frazier's hot start.
Cameron Maybin was soon brought in, played well, and the balance of Frazier's 2019 drew attention for all the wrong reasons.
“With Clint, I think we always, sometimes in the past, assume negative on some of the work things,'' said manager Aaron Boone.
“He’s had some bumps along the way. But I’ve never questioned how hard he’s worked at things.’’
And this spring, Boone likes what he sees from Frazier.
“There’s been a real level of focus and professionalism,’’ said Boone. “He’s in a real good place physically, mentally and how he’s approaching things.’’