BRADENTON, Fla. – A year ago at this time, Adam Frazier was one of many infield prospects destined for Triple-A. The hope among all of those prospects was to emerge as an option in the majors, likely breaking in as a utility player. Several players arrived throughout the year, but Frazier was the one who emerged ahead of the group, making it as a regular bench player in Pittsburgh.
This year there are still a lot of infielders hoping to make the jump to the big leagues from Indianapolis, but Frazier has his spot locked down. He got to the point where he was making starts at the end of the year, filling in for injuries. By comparison, Alen Hanson barely got into games. Frazier’s debut put himself into a position where he’s now a key part of the bench.
Frazier’s presence has helped to adjust the Pirates’ plans this year. They don’t have a true backup shortstop and they don’t have a true fourth outfielder. It can’t be ruled out that they will go that route. But Frazier is one of several super utility players who can fill in at those spots when needed, lessening the need for a guy who can only play shortstop, or a guy who can only play outfield. Frazier has been getting reps in both locations.
“Fighting for that backup shortstop spot, I want to prove I can be that guy this spring,” Frazier said. “I’ve played short my whole life, so it’s kind of second nature. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. It’s just about getting those reps and proving I can do it.”
Frazier gets work all over the field, with the ability to play pretty much any position, due to his athleticism. He doesn’t have the best defense in the outfield, but does have a lot of range, due to his speed. He focuses on a different position each day with Joey Cora, aimed at concentrating on that position, rather than trying to worry about multiple positions on the same day.
“I think that’s great,” Frazier said of the approach. “It allows you to focus on the one or two throws you’re making from that spot, and the ball coming off the bat. So your mind is not spinning. You can focus in on that position that day. Outfield-wise, I just get my work from batting practice. So it’s the same as always. I feel good about that.”
I wrote the other day about how Josh Harrison showed the path to the majors for the minor league infielders. Frazier is already on that path. He made it up as a super utility player like Harrison, and might even have the chance to start one day, although he has more value as a bench player, since he’d profile as a below-average starter with all things in his game considered. Still, he looks to Harrison for advice on handling the super utility role in the majors.
“Last year we talked a good bit about it,” Frazier said about his conversations with Harrison. “I talked to SeanRod also. Just try to pick their brain on how they go about their day. Like I said, trying to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. How to maximize the day. Get live reps in batting practice, and stuff like that. It’s helped a lot. Just watching those two guys also helps.”
Frazier really stands out due to his offense. He had a .301/.356/.411 line in 160 plate appearances last year. He’s got a good approach at the plate, and makes excellent contact to all fields. He might be the best in the system at hitting low and away pitches to the opposite field, showing ease when it comes to dropping those pitches into left field for singles. He has speed, but isn’t a good base stealer, taking away some value.
While he can play defense at multiple positions, he’s not a gold glover by any means. He’s better in the middle infield at second base, and gets most of his value from his range, but doesn’t have the best hands or glove work. He has a lot of range in the outfield, but you can tell he’s fairly new to the position, only playing it since 2015.
The combination of being a good contact hitter with low power, poor stolen base abilities, and decent defense is what makes Frazier a utility guy. If he had better defense up the middle, he’d be an easy starter. If he had more power, he’d make sense for a corner outfield spot. That’s not to say he’s a bad player. He’s good enough at what he does to be a legit super utility option, and with some improvements, he could be a starter, although he’d be below average like Harrison.
If Frazier did break through as a starter, he knows where he’d prefer to play.
“I guess just somewhere in the middle infield, because that’s where I played my whole life,” Frazier said. “Probably most comfortable there. But anywhere on the field in the big leagues, you can’t really complain about that.”
The good news for Frazier is that he won’t have any complaints in 2017, since he will be playing in the big leagues. From there, the next step would be seeing if he can make the jump from that super utility role to being a starter, following the same path as Harrison.