It was about time for Todd Frazier. The Cincinnati Reds slugger was one of the top rookies in the National League last season, and arguably the most valuable player on a team that won 97 games. Drafted 34th overall in 2007, he could have been in Dusty Baker’s lineup earlier than he was.
Two lines in his 2010 Baseball America Prospect Handbook bio help explain his delayed arrival. In rating him Cincinnati’s top prospect, the publication described Frazier as “a jack of all trades but a master of none” and listed his position was as “OF/2B/3B.” Originally a shortstop, he had become a man without a defensive home.
Last year, his versatility proved more of a blessing than a curse. When Joey Votto went on the shelf, Frazier stepped in and provided solid production at first base. When Scott Rolen went down, he did the same at third base. Overall, he hit .273/.331/.498, with 19 home runs, in 128 games.
Frazier, who celebrates his 27th birthday on Tuesday, heads into the 2013 season as Cincinnati’s starting third baseman.
David Laurila: Are you finally an established big-leaguer?
Todd Frazier: I have that first year under my belt, but I don’t think I’m an established big-leaguer. You need at least a couple of years in to be that, but I do feel I’m a big-league ballplayer. I think I’ve opened some eyes, although there’s always room for improvement.
It’s crazy, because you play in the minor leagues — you wait your time — and when you finally get your chance, it’s: `What are you going to do with it now?’ Often, when guys get called up, they play a lot. When I got called up, I was in a pinch-hitting role. I told myself that when I get that opportunity, I need to step up. I think I was 5-for-6, or 6-for-7, as a pinch-hitter and was able to help the team enough that they kept me on. The next step was to show I belonged, and I did that. I think I proved I belong.
DL: Did not establishing yourself in any one position hold you back?
TF: I think it actually kind of helped me out last year. It’s pretty crazy. I was just talking to someone the other day. They were saying, `You did your thing, because you were playing different positions. You got a pinch-hit role, you came back and played first, and then you came back and played third.’ Being able to bounce back and forth was helpful to me.
DL: Coming up through the minors, did bouncing back and forth impact your hitting?
TF: It may have hurt a little bit, but I don’t think it was much of a difference. Once I figured out I wasn’t going to be a shortstop again — and didn’t take it to heart and get upset any more — I understood that if I wanted to make it to the major leagues, I was going to have to play all these positions. I took it in stride and eventually it was kind of cool to see my name in all these different positions. Maybe there was a little bit of that, but nothing crazy.
DL: Have you had any input on where you play?
TF: The coaches always ask, `What do you think about this?’ They always talked to me about it, but it’s always their decision where they want me to go. I don’t necessarily care where, but if I had a choice, I’d rather play one position. It’s better for your arm, for one thing.
DL: Is that the biggest challenge?
TF: I’ve never had arm problems — knock on wood — but there is strain. You throw from different angles, and you need to do a lot more exercises and muscle conditioning with your shoulder and elbow. It starts to get on you a little bit, but at the same time, it’s pretty cool playing six different positions in the major leagues. My arm is holding up pretty well.
DL: You were a Nomar Garciaparra fan growing up. Did you model your game after his?
TF: Not really. I just enjoyed the way he played and liked the Red Sox. Then I kind of grew into a Johnny Damon, with the shaggy hair. Those teams looked like they were having fun, so I enjoyed watching them play. I was also actually more of a Mo Vaughn fan than a Nomar fan. I loved the way he swung the bat.
DL: You’ve never had a particularly good walk rate. Is that simply who you are as a hitter?
TF: I don’t want to take that aggressiveness away from myself. I wish I looked at a lot more pitches, but at the same time, my aggressive nature has got me where I am now. You’re going to take your strikeouts, and get a couple of walks here and there, and I want to swing the bat.
DL: Do you see yourself as a power hitter?
TF: I’d love to be labeled that, but not as a strikeout guy. What often comes with home-run hitters nowadays is a lot of strikeouts. I want to hit for power, but I also want be that guy who gets the runner over in certain situations, or gets that little bloop hit. What matters is that you get the RBI.
I’m trying to master the whole game. I’m trying to get everything down pat to where I can be the player I‘m capable of being. That’s something where I need to talk to more people, and watch more video, yet not worry about it too much.
DL: Who do you talk hitting with?
TF: I talk to our hitting coach a lot, Brook Jacoby. He has a lot of good input, especially for a younger guy like me. I’ve talked to Miguel Cairo a lot, because we were both on the bench for a long time. I started talking to Joey Votto, because he understands hitting and takes a lot of pitches. I’d ask him questions like, `How can you stand there and let a cookie-cutter fastball go by?’ But then he ends up walking or hitting a double. That kind of stuff is interesting to hear.
DL: Are you the same hitter you were a few years ago?
TF: My approach has never changed. Mechanically, I think I’ve maybe changed a little bit. I’ve played a lot more games and gotten a lot more at bats, and you have to be honest with yourself.
I’m not a big video guy, but when I do look at it, it’s for a short period of time to see where my hands and feet are. But that stuff is for mostly for other people. My swing is going to be the same, no matter what.
DL: So you’re the same hitter, only more mature?
TF: I guess you could say that. Everything is pretty much the same. Maybe I hold my hands a little higher, and have tried something different with that, but in the minor leagues you can tinker with stuff a little bit. So yeah, same guy. As for the maturity part, I’m a goofball who likes to have fun. That hasn‘t changed either.
DL: Do you have specific goals for the upcoming season?
TF: I do, and I always set my goals really high. If you say you want to hit 40 home runs and you hit 30, that’s still pretty good. And if you reach them, that’s pretty awesome.
Team-wise, there are goals as well, and they always come first. I was taught at a young age that you set team goals, and from there, the individual stuff will take care of itself.
DL: Was it frustrating to not be in the starting lineup in the NLDS?
TF: It was hard. You want to be out there, but you also understand what Dusty’s decisions are. He made the right choices. At the same time, being on the bench is hard because there’s nothing you can do but cheer your team on. Hopefully we get back there next year and take care of business.
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.