Clint Frazier has as much power as any player who was taken in the 2013 draft. Selected fifth overall by the Cleveland Indians, the right-handed-hitting outfielder can propel baseballs long distances. A big reason is his bat speed, which Baseball America called the best in his draft class.
Frazier — who celebrated his 19th birthday in September — projects as more than a home-run threat. Blessed with above-average athleticism, he was named Gatorade National Player of the Year after hitting .438 in his final season at Loganville [Ga.] High School. After inking his first professional contract, he hit .297/.362/.506, in 196 plate appearances, in the Arizona Summer League.
Frazier talked about his game, including the adjustments he’s making in pro ball, late in the 2013 season. Also weighing in was Carter Hawkins, Cleveland’s assistant director of player development.
Frazier on being drafted by the Indians: “I was going to the Red Sox if the Indians didn’t pick me. I had a deal set up with them, and everything. My neighbor is [Red Sox] minor league hitting coordinator, Tim Hyers. I live less than two minutes from him and have been working with him since eighth grade. I thought I was going there, but I‘m happy to be with Cleveland.”
On his hitting approach: “Overthinking situations and trying to do too much makes it hard. Everyone always says, `See it and hit it,’ and that seems to be the hardest part of hitting sometimes. It’s really easy to overlook that fact. What you’re doing shouldn’t be that hard, but sometimes you’re making it hard. I try to keep it as simple as I can and stay within myself.
“In high school, it was just ‘see it and hit it.’ I didn’t really think too much because of the competition level. When I got to pro ball, my approach changed. I had to recognize as much as I could, because the pitchers are better; they can do more with the ball and place it wherever they want. I need to know what I’m doing at the plate every single time.
“[My coaches] have made me realize that if I don’t get a hit, it’s not always bad. Some good can come out of an out. You can hit the ball hard right at somebody, and that’s a successful at-bat; you still put good wood on the ball. It’s about realizing I can’t get a hit every time. I’m going to struggle sometimes. They sat me down and made me feel more comfortable when I made an out, so I didn’t put as much pressure on myself.
“I’m not a high school baseball player anymore. I can’t go out there and be the best one on the field every single time. There are guys who are better than I am, so I need to be as consistent as I can.”
On getting pitched around: “It has definitely helped me be more selective. I’m sure you’ve read that I’m a very aggressive hitter. When everyone asked what I try to do at the plate, I always said if it’s in the strike zone I’m swinging because something good comes out of me putting the barrel on the ball.
“When I came into pro ball, I still got pitched like I did in high school. The batters ahead of me got nothing but fastballs, then I got three curveballs and a changeup — and struck out. I was frustrated that they were pitching to me like they did in high school. My coach told me, ‘That’s what comes with being drafted where you were. If you look good in the uniform, people take notice of that and pitch around you.’ They really helped me with pitch recognition and getting more picky at the plate.
“When I started seeing better quality breaking balls, it was hard not to sit curveball and just wait for it. That’s not a good way to hit. Now I try to sit on a fastball and react to a breaking ball.”
On batting practice: “In high school, I was trying to hit a home run on every swing in BP. I wanted to prove to scouts that I have power. I don’t really look the part of a guy who has that much power, and I was trying to prove it with every single swing.
“You get to pro ball and don’t take that many swings. At first that was frustrating. I went from getting around 200 swings a day to probably about 50 or 60. You don’t take as many before games, so my routine changed drastically.”
On using the whole field: “In high school, I’d have had a much higher batting average if I’d learned to hit the ball everywhere. In pro ball, I worked the first five months on trying to hit the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. The majority of my base hits this year have been opposite field. That’s something I worked hard on. I didn’t want to be thought of as a dead-pull hitter. I wanted to change opinions and maximize my ability by using the whole field. I’m more of a threat if I hit the ball all over the place.
“I asked my coaches what type of hitter they thought I’d develop into, and they said someone who can hit .300, steal 30 or 40 bags, and also hit 30 homers. I want to be like Mike Trout. I want to be a guy that hurts you in every part of the game. I don’t want to be a guy that’s known for striking out a lot and hitting a lot of home runs with a low average. I want to be one of the best hitters to step into the box, and [good] in the outfield and on the bases.”
On creating backspin: “In my opinion, to create a lot of backspin you need to have a natural loft to your swing, that extra 10% lift in your swing. Not an uppercut, just creating good loft. Ken Griffey Jr. did it really well. Guys who are bigger can create better leverage. For me to be 5-foot-10, or 5-foot-11, it’s kind of surprising I have that loft in my swing. I can’t explain it, but you can see it when I swing. The ball comes off the bat with backspin and a lot of velocity.
“I don’t go up there thinking ‘I’ve got to put backspin on this baseball.’ I just try to hit it hard and whatever happens, happens. If I square it up, I get backspin.”
On power and his weapon of choice: “Strength is a huge part of my game. I look like a football player, honestly. I weigh 195 pounds. I went into the season at 183. In high school, I swung a 34 [inch], 31 [ounce] and the only reason I did that was because metal bats only do drop-3. When I got to professional baseball I was able to customize my own bat. I went 34-32.5, because 31 is too light. It was like I would get through the zone too quickly because of my bat speed. My bat speed and strength allow me to swing a heavier bat.”
“If I really get into one, it’s going to go far and really high. A couple of my home runs this year were just straight line drives. There was one homer against the Dodgers where a guy threw me a curveball and they had the ball speed behind us. I hit it 109 [mph] off my bat.
“I hit a lot of home runs in high school and thought I’d come into pro ball and hit a lot. In my first at bat, I hit a home run and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to hit 30 home runs in this league.’ I ended up hitting five. I was kind of disappointed hitting five, but this whole year was a learning process. I have the power, so I’m not that worried about it. I’m trying to refine my approach and swing, and the natural loft will bring the home runs.”
On Baseball America saying he has “a different finish” to his swing: “If you go on YouTube and watch one of my swings at Wrigley field, it’s a lot like Chase Utley‘s. He stops his swing a little early. I have a short, compact swing. Sometimes I don’t finish it. I assume that’s what they were talking about.”
On his mechanics: “I used to really crouch down in my swing and have a weird toe tap. That hurt my pitch recognition, because I wasn’t getting my foot down and was still in motion. It was a lot of moving parts. An adjustment I made on my own was standing taller and really trying to drive the inside of my front foot to the ground and get it down early, so I could recognize the pitch clearly. That’s an adjustment they’re going to work with me on.
“There was a 90-day, no-touch rule for my first season where they don’t try to change too much, but they realized it’s something I knew would help me with consistency and pitch recognition. If I bend down too much, the only way I can go is up, so my head starts moving like crazy. It starts looking like the pitches are doing way more than they are. I was so dominant in high school that I could get away with it, but in pro ball they found a hole in my swing. It was very frustrating, so I needed to make an adjustment.”
Carter Hawkins on Frazier: “There isn’t anything, fundamentally, we’re looking to change with him. Not from a swing standpoint — nor from a defense or base running standpoint — other than helping him understand his swing, how pitchers are going to attack him and his approach for each at bat. What we’re looking at is the core of his developmental foundation, in terms of his plan. As we move down the line, we’ll continue to get more specific on areas we want him to focus on.
“We try not to put labels on guys, especially someone who is 18 and coming out of high school. Having said that, we certainly see the power. We feel he’s a guy who will be able to drive the baseball out of the park to all fields, not only at the lower levels, but when he gets to the major leagues as well. So, would we call him a power hitter? Absolutely. Would we define him as only a power hitter? No. He’s got the ability to hit for average and to produce runs with more than just the long ball. He‘s naturally gifted.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.