The 2019 season has started to become a distant memory, though we still have a few more reviews to complete. Today, we tick the box on a couple of power hitters who spent time in Scranton and the Bronx to varying degrees of success.
Clint Frazier’s roller coaster season
Red Thunder was supposed to start the season in Triple-A, but Giancarlo Stanton’s bicep strain just three games into the season changed things. The Yankees summoned Frazier to replace Stanton, and little did we know how long Stanton would actually be on the shelf.
Simply put, Clint was terrific in the early going. He hit .324/.342/.632 (148 wRC+) in April, alleviating Stanton’s absence. Frazier cooled down in May (83 wRC+), but recovered for a strong June (126 wRC+) before his demotion, which I’ll touch on more in a moment. First, I have to touch on his defense.
Much of the good Clint did at the dish was overshadowed by some ugly defensive plays. He was charged with three errors — all as a right fielder — but that doesn’t tell the story. Statcast had Frazier as 13 runs below average, second-worst in baseball. Plays like this are why:
Even with Frazier’s defensive woes, it came as a surprise when the Yankees optioned Frazier to Triple-A in the middle of June. He had 11 homers in 209 plate appearances and a 119 wRC+, quite impressive for a 24 year-old. But, the Yankees had just acquired slugger Edwin Encarnación and Frazier wound up being the odd man out.
Perhaps more surprising than Frazier’s demotion was that he didn’t return until roster expansion. Granted, he struggled offensively in Triple-A (85 wRC+), but to keep him down for about two-and-a-half months over the dog days of summer was unexpected. Yes, Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin carried the load just fine, but the rash of injuries could have afforded him another shot.
Frazier didn’t do much in September with the Yankees. He appeared in 14 games but hit .176/.243/.353. But even with the disappointing second half, Frazier again reminded us that he can really hit. He had the same barrel rate as Aaron Judge (10.7 percent) and a solid 88.5 MPH exit velocity.
Mike Ford made the most of his opportunities
Ford was an afterthought when the season began. He wasn’t on the 40-man roster, but as it’s well documented by now, the Yankees had a bazillion injuries and had almost no choice but to give Ford a shot.
By Independence Day, Ford had two brief cameos with the Yankees but didn’t do much. He hit .200/.400/.333 (99 wRC+) in 40 plate appearances and hit one homer. Ford was a nice story as a local product and an undrafted amateur free agent first getting a taste of the majors at 27 years-old, but perhaps this is who he was: a Quad-A slugger. He’d clearly mastered Triple-A, a level he dominated since 2017, but the Yankees didn’t give him a second thought for a few years. They even nearly lost him in the Rule 5 draft.
So, the early returns this year seemed to indicate there was a reason for the Yankees ignoring Ford. However, he got one more opportunity and he made the most of it.
The lefty first baseman absolutely mashed in August and September. In 123 trips to the plate, Ford hit .274/.333/.619 (145 wRC+) with 11 homers. He was much more aggressive and it certainly paid off. His biggest moment came against Oakland’s relief ace, Liam Hendricks, on the first of September:
Overall, Ford finished with a .259/.350/.559 (134 wRC+) batting line and impressive 10.4 percent and 17.2 percent walk and strikeout rates, respectively. The combination of power, patience, and bat-to-ball skills gave the Bombers a big lift down the stretch.
Now, whether or not Ford’s hitting ability is for real remains to be seen. He could be just another Quad-A slugger to get his moment in the sun, but there are some underlying positives. He crushed the ball this season to the tune of a 91.9 MPH average exit velocity and 9.6 barrel rate. Not many guys can do that while striking out below the league average mark.
Frazier has perpetually been on the trade block forever, it seems. That’s probably no different this winter, although there is an opening for him. Should the Yankees let Brett Gardner walk, Frazier could take over. That said, such a scenario seems doubtful. A Gardner reunion is assuredly in the works, Frazier still has one more minor league option, and Clint’s defense and poor finish may have scared the Yankees a little. Now, will he be traded? Who knows. He’s been rumored for so long that I won’t believe it until I see it.
Ford’s role on the 2020 Yankees is somewhat uncertain. The Yankees are set at first base (Luke Voit) and have an abundance of options at DH (Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andújar, and Voit), so there’s no open regular gig for Ford. However, he could snag a bench role now that rosters are one player larger. If not, Ford will probably clobber Triple-A pitching until an injury opens up some playing time in the majors.