RailRiders 2019: Frazier Emerges From The Shadows

April 4, 2019


He’s surely fielded all the questions at least once.

How are you feeling?

Were you scared?

How are you feeling?

What was the treatment like? Why did it take so long?

How are you feeling?

Is it true you couldn’t keep the names of your cats straight? That your vision was messed up?

Also, how are you feeling?

Clint Frazier heard them all. Clint Frazier answered them all. He’s been open about his season-long struggle with concussion symptoms.

“I feel like I lost a year of my life,” the RailRiders’ 24-year-old outfielder said. “There were times that I didn’t know how I got to certain places because of the fogginess. I was having a hard time just with an everyday lifestyle.”

Frazier wakes up feeling like himself now. The headaches are gone. The blurriness is gone.

He’s healthy again and focused on getting back to the big leagues.

“I feel great,” Frazier said. “One hundred times better than what I felt last year. Moving forward, I plan on staying that way. So, I’m going to play healthy, or smart, and not too aggressive, but still playing my game while I’m out there.”

Injury and setback

It took a while to get here.

The road starts in the second inning of the second game of spring training last season against Pittsburgh in Bradenton, Florida. Frazier goes back to make a catch on a fly ball by Ryan Lavarnway and hits the back of his head against the fence. He stays in the game — he even singles in his next at-bat — but two days later is diagnosed with what Yankees manager Aaron Boone, at the time, terms a “mild” concussion.

Frazier is sidelined more than two months.

“My depth perception was off,” said Frazier, who has worn contacts since high school. “It was blurry. I went to the eye doctor earlier in that spring trying eight or nine times trying to get my contacts correct because every day my prescription was changing.”

It wasn’t literally changing. The way he felt made it seem like it was. He had migraines. He felt foggy. Good days followed bad days. Bad days followed good ones.

Two months later, Frazier finally gets into a game April 26 with High-A Tampa. He doubles, walks twice, scores two runs and goes on to play three more games with the Tarpons before joining the RailRiders.

Frazier again looks like the player the Yankees hoped for when they shipped Andrew Miller to Cleveland at the 2016 trade deadline. In May, he hits .333, gets on-base at a .404 clip and slugs an otherworldly .624 — six doubles, three triples and five home runs in 23 games. June and July bring more of the same, with Frazier hitting .292 with eight doubles and five homers over 24 games.

Most importantly, he’s healthy enough to be an everyday player and the Yankees bring him up July 7 for a longer look.

On July 11, New York is blowing out Baltimore and Frazier relieves Brett Gardner in the field in the eighth inning. He singles to left in the ninth and moves to second when Aaron Judge follows with a walk. When Didi Gregorius hits a chopper to third, Frazier slams on the brakes to get out of the way of Orioles third baseman Jace Peterson. He ducks, Peterson tumbles over his shoulder harmlessly enough and the two smile about the collision at third base.

Frazier gets into two more games, then the Yankees return him to the RailRiders. In his first game back with SWB on July 19, he’s leading off and playing center field against Columbus.

Bottom of the first, Frazier dives for a ball. Top of the second, Shane Robinson is pinch hitting for him.

The symptoms resurfaced.

“I was still feeling (the collision with Peterson) and just trying to get through it,” he said. “And the dive just kind of shook me up and that’s when I realized ‘I can’t even — I can’t play.’ I couldn’t see. That’s the biggest thing. I couldn’t see.”

Frazier is sent for more tests and gets a new diagnosis: post-concussion migraines. He and the Yankees are optimistic they have a plan to get him back on the field.

He next suits up Aug. 12 for Tampa. After that, it’s a game Aug. 30.

That was the end of his year.

Fifty-four minor league games, 15 games in the bigs and one lost season. Frazier is proud of the production he put up when he was on the field, there just wasn’t enough of it.

“I mean, think about it, anything that messes with your brain has got to be tough, especially when it’s good one day and it’s not good the next,” his teammate Tyler Wade said. “He was really good about being positive about it and getting his work done.”

Long road

Frazier didn’t feel right for months. There were days he would tell his friends not to ask him about his head. If he wanted to talk about it, he’d bring it up. He couldn’t escape the feeling, so he didn’t want to add to it by having it be the topic of conversation.

“I had a very slow progression through it all,” Frazier said. “That’s what made it so hard to get through was how long that it was taking. The Yankees did a really good job at making sure that I was surrounded by the best people because that’s an experience that I think a lot of us were learning more as we went through it.”

By December, things started looking up. He resumed baseball activities, posting a video Dec. 13 on Instagram of a healthy cut in a cage. By Christmas, he was sure he’d get good news at his next doctor’s appointment.

On Jan. 17, Frazier tweets: “after a longggggggg battle with the concussion like symptoms i’m happy to tell u i’ve been cleared to participate in spring training and go after what i’ve wanted since being traded over here, to win an outfield job and show u guys what i can do. i’m readyyyyyyy.”

Six minutes later, that’s followed by, “i’m dancing around my hotel room after this tweet.”

Months of doctor’s appointments and treatments finally brought results. The question of whether he’d ever be able to play baseball again had an answer.

“It was a thought as time went on,” Frazier said. “It just seemed like it wasn’t going to end. It’s real easy to go into a dark place whenever you’re going through that kind of injury because it’s a helpless feeling.

“I definitely thought about what’s my future going to look like, but that was just me pitying myself in that moment. Whenever I turned the corner and realized I’ve got to compete against my injury, I started to turn the corner.”

Back to baseball

Going into his junior year at Loganville High School in Georgia, Frazier finds an email on his dad’s iPad.

It’s a mock draft of sorts, and it has Frazier going in the first round.

“And I remember just kind of like being blown away,” he said.

Frazier knew how he matched up against other players in Georgia. He played travel ball, but up to that point, only in-state since money was tight. Colleges recruited him, so he always assumed that was the next step, but by the time he was a senior and started going to some showcases, he knew professional baseball was in his future.

National outlets Perfect Game USA and MaxPreps dub him the top high school player in his draft class. The Cleveland Indians take him in the first round in 2013; fifth overall, 27 picks before the Yankees find a big outfielder from Cal State Fresno named Aaron Judge. He’s a fixture on prospect lists and Baseball America ranks him among the best 50 in the game the next three years.

“As time started to go on, I started to realize that I could probably make a living out of this,” Frazier said. “I play because I love the way that the competitive drive feels whenever I accomplish something. I play because one day I want to have a family and have them set up. I have goals and aspirations to be a very good player and hopefully a very good teammate and a good man, and I think that this game can do all those things.”

He doesn’t show up on those prospect lists anymore, though that’s only because he exceeded his rookie status in 2017. The skills are still there, led by the bat speed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman famously deemed “legendary.” Had he made New York’s opening day roster this year, only Miguel Andújar and Gleyber Torres would’ve been younger.

“He does some good things,” RailRiders manager Jay Bell said. “He can run. He can hit. I think he’ll hit for average because he can let the ball travel a little bit. He can hit home runs. There’s a lot of things — he’s a nice package.”

One of the things Frazier needs to do is figure out how to “slow the game down” on a regular basis, Bell said. To simplify it as much as he possibly can.

As a former player, Bell knows that is easier said than done.

“It’s something that you strive for constantly over the course of a career,” Bell said. “Those are the two things that every player looks for: Slow it down and simplify. Once he figures that out — I think he’s going to be a big leaguer for a long time.”

The next step

Frazier’s spring training doesn’t look great on paper, with only seven hits in 49 at-bats, but he’s not too disappointed. He feels like he’s hitting the ball pretty well, considering how much time he’s missed.

He didn’t make the big league club, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He needs at-bats, and the Yankees are set in the outfield with Judge, Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks. Still, there’s not much left for Frazier to prove down here. He owns an .832 OPS in 152 games at Triple-A, with 25 homers, 35 doubles and nine triples.

“I mean, I want to be (in the bigs) more than anything, so if I’ve got to do whatever I’ve got to do, I’ll wear it,” he said. “Scranton’s not too bad, but New York is amazing. I’m not going to go down there and sulk. That’s not going to accomplish anything. I’m going to work and I’m going to end up in those bright lights. That’s where I want to be.”

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