The philosophy of some professional sports franchises is to “overcook” the development of their top prospects — whether in the minor leagues or in a reserve role — ensuring they’ve had more than enough time to prepare for an every-day role in the pros.
Locally, we’ve seen that practiced with New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, who used that exact term last year when speaking about young defenseman Noah Dobson.
In the Bronx, however, Clint Frazier’s development with the New York Yankees is smoking up the kitchen and possibly burning to a crisp.
The promising corner outfielder has been the victim of a logjam amongst a loaded depth chart that has made consistent playing time in left or right field lean. There is zero chance of usurping face-of-the-franchise Aaron Judge for time in right while the Yankees have remained loyal to veteran Brett Gardner in left.
Gardner, 37, was brought back on a one-year deal for the 2020 season along with a $10 million club option for next year, as well. It was certainly earned considering he was coming off a career-best 2019 campaign in which he posted a career-best 28 home runs, 74 RBI, and a .829 OPS.
But with Frazier waiting in the wings, Gardner’s leash should be understandably short — and he didn’t do much to instill confidence in the truncated 2020 season. In 49 games, the veteran slashed .223/.354/.392 with five home runs and 15 RBI while his defense in left trended downward as well.
It remains to be seen if the Yankees will exercise that option on Gardner to bring him back, but even if they do, it certainly seems like it should be Frazier’s time to take over in left field full-time.
Granted, common sense isn’t always shared between spectator and decision-maker.
The 26-year-old has consistently shown over the last two seasons that he can produce at a high level when he’s called upon — at least in the few and far between instances that come his way.
Between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he’s combined to play 108 games (39 out of 60 this season), slashing .267/.347/.497 for a .844 OPS with 20 home runs and 64 RBI.
Over a 162-game pace with those numbers, Frazier would put up 30 home runs and 96 RBI. That’s good enough to start on any team in Major League Baseball, even the Yankees.
If the Yankees do make the head-scratching decision to keep him in a reserve role for 2021 and beyond, there’s no way out any time soon. He’s under team control via the arbitration process through the 2024 season.
The best course of action would be to demand a trade, which the Yankees would certainly be able to get a nice return given his high ceiling.