Back in 2019, Matt Fraizer debuted with the West Virginia Black Bears by putting up a .221/.287/.266 line. That includes a .045 ISO, in case you didn’t notice. Great for an outfielder. So seeing Fraizer penciled in as the leadoff hitter for High-A Greensboro, skipping a level, wasn’t terribly exciting. And then he went for the golden sombrero in the opener.
Raise your hand if you guessed this guy would put up a .314/.401/.578 line with Greensboro, then move up to Altoona and go .288/.356/.492. The Curve had a lot of good hitting prospects, but Fraizer’s OPS was comfortably ahead of all of them except Oneil Cruz, and not too far behind him.
Tim Williams already went through the background on Fraizer’s swing changes in naming him the Pirates Prospects Breakout Player of 2021. The only thing I can add is that I saw Fraizer a number of times in 2019, both in person and on the webcasts, and I described his swing as “an inside-out swing that produced no power.”
In years of following the Pirates’ farm system, I’ve never seen a player’s swing change so dramatically, quite apart from the results. Apart from the help he got from the Pirates, it’s a credit to Fraizer, that he was intelligent and flexible enough to buy in and make the change.
One thing worth noting here — Fraizer’s power in 2021 wasn’t just a Greensboro Phenomenon. At home while he was there, he had 12 home runs, 18 extra base hits and a .615 slugging average. On the road, eight homers, 19 extra base hits and a .542 slugging average. So it looks like the home park just turned a few doubles into homers. He also had only a mild platoon split.
As an added bonus, Fraizer has spent a slight majority of his outfield time in center and handled it well enough. His swing adjustment certainly bodes well for any improvements he needs to make on defense. There’s no need now to forecast the future outfield alignment in Pittsburgh. Bryan Reynolds, Travis Swaggerty, whatever, the important thing is that Fraizer gives them the possibility of an outfielder with some power who could play center, or the cavernous left field at PNC.
This isn’t to take anything away from the excellent seasons turned in by Cruz, Nick Gonzales and Endy Rodriguez. Fraizer, though, was the most consistently outstanding from beginning to end, and across two levels.
2020: No Season
2019: Mason Martin
2018: Kevin Kramer
2017: Jordan Luplow
2016: Josh Bell
2015: Josh Bell
2014: Josh Bell
2013: Andrew Lambo
2012: Gregory Polanco
2011: Starling Marte
Having followed the Pirates fanatically since 1965, Wilbur Miller is one of the fast-dwindling number of fans who’ve actually seen good Pirate teams. He’s even seen Hall-of-Fame Pirates who didn’t get traded mid-career, if you can imagine such a thing. His first in-person game was a 5-4, 11-inning win at Forbes Field over Milwaukee (no, not that one). He’s been writing about the Pirates at various locations online for over 20 years. It has its frustrations, but it’s certainly more cathartic than writing legal stuff. Wilbur is retired and now lives in Bradenton with his wife and three temperamental cats.