NEW YORK – Clint Frazier had more than just the annual surge of spring training optimism.
Entering his fourth full year in pinstripes, there was a real possibility Frazier would be heading north when the Yankees’ 2020 camp concluded, bound for regular at-bats in Aaron Boone’s lineup.
Beyond the outfield vacancies, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks set to begin the season on the injured list, Frazier was earning his keep.
And he was keeping a lid on the drama.
“It’s my first time where I have a legitimate chance to break with the club,’’ Frazier said during camp.
A few weeks later, camps around MLB were closing due to the COVID-19 crisis and Frazier, 25, was heading home to Georgia.
Having missed large swaths of playing time since 2018 due to lingering concussion symptoms and last year’s ankle injury, Frazier’s best opportunity as a Yankee was in front of him this spring.
First, he was healthy and hitting.
In 12 Grapefruit League games, Frazier slashed .320/.471/.571 with four doubles, a home run and seven walks in 33 plate appearances.
And after some shaky defensive moments last season, Frazier put as much emphasis on his much-criticized outfield play.
“I think that all eyes are on me in the outfield, for the right reasons. Or, I guess, the wrong reasons,’’ said Frazier, less brash this spring.
Always a confident hitter, Frazier said he had to show he could produce at the big-league level “and do it on a consistent basis.’’
That chance seemed to be at hand.
Another missed chance?
Judge (stress fracture, first right rib) would be sidelined through April, with some uncertainty about when his season might begin.
Stanton strained his right calf in late February and was probably looking at a mid-April return. Meanwhile, Hicks (Tommy John surgery) wasn’t expected back until about the All-Star break.
With his third base spot now occupied by Gio Urshela, the slash-hitting Miguel Andujar was making strides as a left fielder in camp, with the Yanks eager to find him at-bats.
But as the March 26 season opener neared, Frazier was likely going to be in the lineup at Baltimore, occupying a corner outfield spot along with Mike Tauchman, with Brett Gardner in center field.
This time, it might have been harder to ship Frazier back to Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre if he were healthy and hitting, even when Stanton came off the IL.
Now, if the season were to begin in July, Stanton, Judge and possibly Hicks, could be back and taking at-bats away from Frazier.
Joining the fight
A year ago, Frazier got the call once Stanton went on the IL on April 1.
And the right-handed hitting Frazier was taking advantage, batting .339 with 1.019 OPS until April 22, when he got tangled up at second base during a play at Anaheim.
Frazier landed on the IL with an ankle sprain, altering the trajectory of his season.
By mid-June, he was back in the minors, not to be seen in the Bronx again until September.
Earlier that month, Frazier created some controversy by avoiding the media after a rough defensive game against the Red Sox, then compounded the issue by later saying he had no regrets.
That accountability lapse was not overlooked within the organization, part of a list of awkward missteps by someone with less than a full season of big-league experience.
There was plenty of bad luck, too, like the spring training 2018 concussion that required a full year of recovery.
All told, it looked as if Frazier’s future would be with another club, as part of a trade for pitching.
“I felt like my back was against the wall in the offseason,’’ said Frazier, adding that he was “ready to fight’’ to prove he belonged in pinstripes.
That battle will begin anew, hopefully soon.