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.

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  1. Have been watching Frazier since his days as a rookie at Jamestown in the NY Penn League. He always looked good at the plate. He may have some shortcomings here ‘n there, but overall don’t discount his energy for this game! Anybody who has improved at each level to arrive in Pittsburgh and still hit over .300 has to be taken seriously. I believe he has every chance to be at least an every day second baseman playing off his very productive bat and base speed. He knows the strike zone and is a very pesky hitter for most pitchers.

  2. He hits. Frazier is going to surprise some folks this year. He hits. Low power. No true position. You can say that about A LOT of 25 year olds in minor ball. He hits. Has talent, good make-up, great attitude. I’m a fan.

  3. “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*.”

    • eh…..Harrison has more power, more speed, and is a better defensive player. All Frazier has going for him is better contact and better strike zone command.

      • Eh, Harrison’s last 2 seasons have produced a 97 OPS+ in 2015 and 85 OPS+ (ugh) in 2016. Harrison is a much better defensive player….That’s it.

        • Hard to make an argument for anyone to replace Harrison because of the $18 mil he is owed over the next two years. If he is not traded, he cannot be replaced – it is just that simple.

          Hanson is an exceptional 2B, and would be better than Harrison or Frazier at SS. He has the footspeed to play OF, and is a switchhitter who can steal bases. If I am looking to invest time in anybody as a Super U, it is somebody that has all of those tools that I can possibly develop as a better hitter, although .264 in 1,000 AAA AB’s is not bad at all.

        • now you are cherry picking to cut out his best year. Take all 3 years combined, and forget about OPS+ because we are talking about full value to the team, not cherry picking offensive stats.

        • maybe you value this more than I do. To each his own. If Frazier could actually steal bases with any sort of reasonable rate of success, that plate discipline and contact skill would be more useful in my eyes.

      • Harrison’s game power has disappeared since his fluky 2014 season, and as you note, Frazier’s superior OBP skills likely make up any gap there exists, if any actually does.

        I think folks who believes there’s more than a ~3 run difference between Harrison and Frazier on defense are buying too much into the latter’s small sample last year, and their baserunning is likely a wash.

        The total difference between the two, in either direction, isn’t likely to be more than .5 WAR, in my opinion.

        • Its hard to say really since Frazier (hopefully) is still developing. On this team, defense is more important up the middle than contact hitting is (pretty much everyone in our system does that, so its as superfluous as having a pitcher throwing 95 at this point)- and I don’t think (like Tim) that Frazier will ever even be an average defensive player at any position. Again, that can change. Mercer became way better at shortstop than he was projected, but I’d say the odds in the in favor of the house on this one. And….I’ll agree with you, Harrison’s HR power has dipped significantly, and that the contact hitting skills and ability to talk a walk probably do make up for that. I just don’t see anything that evens up the defense or base running, hard to tell what base running skills Frazier has based on such a small sample size. I think in 3 years the gap might be .5 WaR, but in 2017….I think the gap is closer to 1.5 War based on equal playing time. Again, just my opinion here, Frazier is too green to really know what he’s going to do this year.

  4. Nice analysis. At this point, I just don’t have a lot of faith in that glove of his, but he’s young enough to improve.

  5. I’d like to think he can continue working to make himself a better defensive player, and get coached up on being a bigger threat on the base paths, too.

    If that’s the case, I see no reason he can’t become a starting 2B.

  6. I give him credit for what he has accomplished but his lack of power and inability to play one defensive position at a high level will prevent from becoming a regular but I have been wrong in the past and hope I am wrong now.

    • I like the kid also, I just hope they don’t try to force him into a starter role like they did with Jhay

      • I think j hay forced himself into a starter position by really playing well 2 years ago. The pirates believed based on the performance he would keep it up.

        • He had an outer body experience for 3 months. I never seen anything that came close to looking sustainable. He’s 5 foot nothing & stands 4 feet off the plate & swings at everything, he has to dive into everything. It was just a matter of time until they got a book on him. I hope he goes off again & somebody makes an offer that can’t be turned down

          • That wasn’t his batting stance in 2014. Pick up some tape. For some reason, in 2015, he started doing that……and slowly started getting closer to the plate and hitting better as the season went on….yet in 2016 he did it again, I can’t for the life of me figure out why, and I wish someone like Tim would ask him why he’s so far away from the plate.

            • I have been saying for almost 2 years that the Pirates lack a top quality Hitting Coach. Maybe it is just me, but I know who the hitting coaches are for St. Louis and Chicago.

              I keep forgetting who the hitting coach is for the Pirates. although I do know who the hitting coaches are at Hi A and AA because I saw improvement from the hitters they were working with last year, especially at AA. We promoted the Manager of AA and the Pitching Coach from AA, but the Hitting Coach, Kevin Riggs, is still there . . . . . . . . . . . for now!

                • Those blanket numbers do not tell you when those runs were scored. Do a little research as to how many games the Pirates scored 2 or less runs and what their record was in those games. Or 3 or less runs.

                  • I kept a running chart during the season, and have not looked at it again until now. They were 4 – 42 – 1 in the 47 games they played in 2016 where they scored 2 runs or less. On Sep 29 the Pirates and Cubs played to a 1-1 tie.

                    More than half of our losses came when we scored 2 runs or less.

                    On the flip side, they were 27 – 0 when they scored 8 or more runs in a game. We can beat up on some pitchers.

                    They were 6th in the NL, 3rd in the NL Central with 729 runs. Average runs scored by the Pirates was 4.5 per game so why 47 games where we scored 2 runs or less?

              • I just don’t know who would have looked at Harrison after 2014 and said…….”you really need to be as far away from the plate as you can, last year was a fluke. The best thing to do is literally throw yourself and all your leverage directly at the opposing dugout” I remember seeing him in spring training in 2015 and saying “what the hell is he doing?” I’ve never gotten an answer from anyone as to the change.

                • These are the things a good hitting coach picks up on immediately. The Pirates have good hitters but I think they could be even better, and they need to be even better if they hope to compete in the NL Central.

          • stats don’t lie, they tell a story. You don’t have to like the story it tells, but it is there fore anyone to read. 100% factual. I could also say that Jhay in his 3 years as a relative full time player (even with the last two mediocre years) he still ranks in the top half in the team in WAR for any position player we had for all 3 years. That doesn’t sound like someone that didn’t earn and shouldn’t be a starting middle infielder, does it?

            • My statement above was pointless- ” I could also say that Jhay in his 3 years as a relative full time player (even with the last two mediocre years) he still ranks in the top half in the team in WAR for any position player we had for all 3 years”- I withdraw that since we didn’t have many players with us all 3 years he was a starting player. That being said, his 7.8 Total WAR over 3 years is definitely above average and crushes the 3.8 WAR put up by Mercer over that same time frame. Just for some perspective.

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