I have seen a lot of misinformation thrown around in regards to the newest addition to the organization Clint Frazier.
Much has been said about how Frazier fits Brad Grants strategy of a “middle of the diamond player” (i.e. C/P/SS/CF) that often represents the most athletic player and means such a prospect could have more flexibility at his eventual position. As a high school center fielder, Frazier seems to represent such a mentality. However, many reporting on Frazier’s scouting report have been incorrect.
So let me correct everyone and get this out of the way:
Clint Frazier is a center fielder. Clint Frazier will not be a center fielder.
Those that are listing Frazier as a center fielder are not necessarily wrong in doing so. As I said before, he played that position for his high school team and the Indians plan on starting out his professional career in the middle of the outfield. However, don’t let that confuse you with him having a chance to stick in center, because he won’t.
In the waning days leading up to the draft I started seeing more opinions of Cleveland faithful in favor of selecting Frazier with the fifth pick. A common argument (besides that beautiful, beautiful bat speed) was his ability to play center field. However, everything I’ve read in my own pre-draft preparation didn’t even mention Frazier’s ability to play center, because he had no chance to.
I did some digging, and had yet to find an opinion outside of Ohio that felt as though Frazier could stick in center field. I consulted two of my most trusted sources for draft information in Keith Law and Chris Crawford via their pre-draft chats. This is what they told me:
These are opinions that should not be misconstrued as facts, but if Frazier really had a shot to stick in center one would assume more unbiased scouts would be open to the idea. It seems that Brad Grant and Chris Antonetti might believe Frazier has a shot, but I wouldn’t hang my hat on it.
The reason Frazier won’t be a fit in center is because he isn’t particularly an athlete. He has plenty of talent, but a lot is derived from his hard-nosed 110 percent effort mentality making the most out of the ability he naturally possesses. He has plenty of natural talent, but he isn’t the type that can be lackadaisical and still be a great player. Most center fielders are more naturally gifted and are thus a better fit for the position. Like Law said, “center field is hard.”
This isn’t a knock on Frazier as a prospect; it simply means the bar is higher for him. Not all center fielders can hit 20-30 HRs, but most quality corner outfielders can. For Frazier to be worth his draft hype as a corner outfielder, he’ll need to reach his full potential.
I don’t think it’s out of the question to see Frazier play center field for the first year or two in his development in the minors. Challenging him there could only make left field or right field feel easier and it’s a common development route taken by every organization. Maybe Frazier can fake it in center all the way to Double-A (especially because of a lack of outfield prospects to push him to a corner). But he will not be Cleveland’s center fielder of the future.
The only scenario I can foresee of Frazier playing center is if he takes the Bryce Harper defensive developmental route. Everyone knows that Harper is destined for a corner, but a sheer lack of center field options in Washington forced him into center in 2012. The same outcome could happen for Frazier if Cleveland is adamant that he can play there, but he will not be an attractive option at that spot.
I’ve heard arguments that Tyler Naquin had similar questions of his ability to stick in center but is succeeding there now thanks to Cleveland’s faith, thus Frazier can be said to have a similar case. Whoever says that is completely mistaken. The industry was split on Naquin’s chances. The same industry has given Frazier no chance.
Will Frazier’s destiny of being a corner outfielder spot mean that he was the wrong pick at fifth overall (where corner outfielders are rarely selected since the position is so easy to fill)? Not necessarily. This is the weakest draft to come along in awhile. I was split on whether I wanted Frazier to be the pick or not even hours after he was officially a Cleveland Indian. But recently I’ve started to convince myself more and more he was the right choice. I already talked about how the Indians needed his upside with that pick and if Frazier hits his ceiling he’ll be a fan favorite.
But don’t let someone tell you he’ll play center field.
The facts are this: he’s an average runner. He’s talented, but not a true athlete though he plays harder than anyone else to make the most of it. He’s not a 5-tool player. And for the love of Christ he’s not Mike Trout.
If I’m wrong about Frazier defensively, harass me. Follow me on Twitter (@BoverouxMedia) and wait until 2017 or so when Frazier is the everyday center fielder for the Tribe to laugh in my face. But I have faith in my own opinions. Frazier will not play center field in Cleveland.