CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Yankees surprised some people by naming Clint Frazier their starting left fielder well before spring training even began. And that stance didn’t change when they brought back Brett Gardner last month.
So far, Frazier hasn’t given them a reason to second-guess that decision.
“It made me feel like I was part of the team more because I’ve been the guy trying to crack the lineup,’’ Frazier said Thursday of the offseason comments from both general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone. “For both those guys to say the things they said definitely made me feel a sigh of relief.”
One AL scout who has seen Frazier throughout the spring called him “more of a finished product.”
That’s what the Yankees are counting on, with Frazier having seized the opportunity last year with injuries in the outfield that gave him a prolonged run after opening the season at the alternate site in Scranton.
“He’s come in and his work has been excellent,’’ Boone said. “I continue to like what he’s doing on the defensive side.”
But with the way Gardner has also looked this spring, the pressure will continue to be on Frazier to perform.
“It doesn’t mean I need to get complacent,’’ Frazier said of his secure spot in the lineup. “Everybody says the easy part is getting there and the hard part is staying there. It hasn’t been easy to get here and I’m assuming it won’t be easy to stay considering the firepower we have trying to get into the lineup.”
Heading into this season, Frazier has played the equivalent of exactly one full year — 162 games — in the majors.
In those 589 plate appearances, Frazier has 24 homers and an OPS of .806, numbers the Yankees would probably take in 2021.
He’s one of several hitters that have fallen off late in spring training. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk in a 13-12 loss to the Phillies at BayCare Ballpark on Thursday.
“I’m excited with where he’s at as a player and a person,’’ Boone said before the game. “I look forward to him being one of our mainstays.”
The 26-year-old has also spoken repeatedly about being less of a distraction than he has in the past and he has followed through.
“I’m not surprised,’’ Boone said. “We’ve seen this development and maturity over the last couple of years.”
Gardner is expected to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder, but those plans can change and the Yankees leaned on Gardner in the playoffs last year.
And if Frazier slumps or revisits some of the defensive issues he’s dealt with in the past, the calls will return to play Gardner.
The waiting game for Frazier began when he was the fifth-overall selection by Cleveland in the 2013 amateur draft and the spotlight only grew brighter when Frazier was a key part of the package the Yankees acquired in exchange for Andrew Miller prior to the 2016 trade deadline.
Since then, he’s shown flashes of the “legendary bat speed” Cashman raved about when Frazier became a Yankee.
“They’ve been waiting for him to put everything together and now would be the time for it to happen,’’ the AL scout said. “I don’t think it mattered when they said he’d be the starter, he showed what he was capable of last season and it looks like he’s focused and healthy.”
If all goes according to plan, he’ll be in left field when the Yankees open their season in The Bronx on April 1.
“The goal is to be an impact player,’’ Frazier said. “One that shows what I can finally do over 162 games.”