Q&A with Clint Frazier Part 2: Turning pro and preparing for '14
Yesterday, I posted part one of my Q&A with Indians 2013 first round draft pick and outfielder Clint Frazier. We talked in detail about the process leading up to the draft, the Indians pursuit of him and how draft day went.
Today, in the second and final part, Frazier and I talk about his first foray into pro ball, what he learned, what he struggled with, what adjustments he has made, how he is preparing for this season, his interactions with Francisco Lindor and more.
Onto the Q&A…
Q: So what would you say that you have made the biggest strides in since turning pro?
Clint Frazier (CF): The biggest stride for me is I have obviously gotten better in the outfield. I am still working on it because I am really new to the outfield. I didn’t start playing outfield until my 11th grade year. I still take some awkward routes to balls, but that is just me getting used to it in the outfield. The hardest thing is the fences in high school were 360 to dead center and 345 in the gaps, so when you add another 40 or 50 feet to center field it makes it harder for me to judge baseballs. If you saw me the first few weeks in Arizona you might have asked what is going on (laughs).
Q: What about with your approach? You had a nice season at rookie level Arizona hitting .297 with 5 HR, 28 RBI and .868 OPS in 44 games, but you also struck out 61 times in 172 at bats.
CF: I think another big step I have made is from an offensive standpoint. I was disappointed in my season. I felt that .297 with 5 HR and [28 RBI] was not what I could have done, but when I put them up against everybody else and my numbers were still better or as good….and I thought I had a down year? That really made me think that when I figure this out it is going to be something special. It just comes from the aptitude and always wanting to learn and being coachable. I started taking more notes in my head than I usually did in high school. Coming out [to Arizona] I had a lot of moving parts in my swing and they tried to slow me down and change my effort level. I was 100% in everything I was doing and they told me do go at 80%. Ever since I have been doing 80% I can actually breathe after I am hitting in the cages. I just think from an offensive standpoint I helped myself by changing my stance as I am doing a little leg kick now, not swinging as hard, realizing you have to have an approach at the plate and not trying to always win the game with one swing. It is just maturing as a baseball player and realizing there is more to the game than the home run.
Q: How did the whole “80%” idea come about?
CF: I was getting upset in batting practice. My coaches asked why I was getting upset, and I said that I went from hitting a home run every single at bat in high school to not being able to hit one out here (in Arizona). He said you try too hard. Swing less without much force behind it. I didn’t want my pride to be hurt by admitting he was right so I tried it and my balls had a lot better backspin, the distance was a lot further and I could have a conversation after I hit. I could never talk after hitting because I was always huffing and puffing and just flat out tired. That was the part about being coachable to have one ear open and listening to everything they are saying.
Q: Does the new 80% approach help you see the ball better and with picking up the offspeed and other stuff?
CF: Yes, drastically. Because when I was going 100% I would gear up as hard as I could and sometimes I would check swing at balls I didn’t even want to swing at but because I was trying to get that extra edge of 100% every time my pitch recognition was down. I am seeing the ball so much better now. I am still working on things. I still have an approach at the plate I am trying to get better at every single day. The fact that I can go 80% in the box and it opens up more consistency with how hard I hit the ball or how good I see the pitches, it really makes me excited and makes me want to hit every day and want to face as many pitches as I can.
Q: Do the strikeouts concern you at all?
CF: I am not worried about the strikeouts. I have never been a guy that struck out a lot. I think the reason I struck out was because the pitching got better and if you saw my stance I did some weird toe tap and when I would swing I would get so far back that the only way to swing would be to come up so my head would change directions. I did that the whole year. So with my eye level changing so much the ball was looking like it was doing so much, so that is why they said do the 80% and the little leg kick so I could get my heel on the ground. Ever since I did that my consistency of hitting the ball and my plate discipline has gotten a lot better. If I strike out a lot hopefully I am hitting a lot of home runs and have a high batting average to back that up. The way I look at it, I struck out 61 times but I hit .300. If I cut down on the strikeouts, maybe I can hit .320 or .330. I struck out four times one game and my agent texted me and said “did you go to a Mexican restaurant tonight?” I asked why, and he said I got the Golden Sombrero. I was on deck for my fifth at bat with two outs and the game on the line, and if I would have struck out five times then I’d be worried. Striking out five times, you’d call that a Clint Frazier (laughs).
Q: What about the pitching? I am sure it was a different caliber than you were used to seeing in high school. Plus, teams probably pitched around you in high school and you got, what, maybe 80 or so “real” at bats in a 40 game season?
CF: I hit leadoff in high school just so that I could see more pitches. People would walk me. They would throw at me. They would do whatever they could to try to take me out of the game or take the bat out of my hands and it generally led to a walk. So I did not see many pitchers that can do what these guys can here.
Q: Was that frustrating in high school when teams would sometimes just not even give you a chance to hit? Especially with scouts watching and you wanting to show that power?
CF: I looked at it like they respected me. I had multiple coaches tell my coach they were not going to let one player win the game, which was me. Even though it was a team effort and I was trying to get my team a victory, I had to show what I could do in BP and in the infield and outfield before the game to scouts. If they walked me in the game they walked me. But I always thought I had to prove myself before the game, and if I had a chance in the game to prove myself then I was going to and if I didn’t then there was nothing I could do about it.
Q: How was your first foray into professional baseball? Was it what you expected? Playing games in Arizona probably was not the most exciting thing because of the lack of any fans in the stands. You looking forward to getting in front of a crowd this year - likely at Low-A Lake County?
CF: Yeah, I think the hardest thing for me, and it might be easier for some high school players, is I came from a town where it was just baseball. We had like a 1000-2000 people at a game a night and I came out [to Arizona] and no one was at my games and I feel like I am scrimmaging. But that is part of baseball. I have to learn to be able to motivate myself to want to go out there and play every single day whether someone is watching me or not. I think it helped me with people not being there not feeling as much pressure to have to perform at the highest level every single time. When I was in high school and people would come to the games with signs or blown up Frazier faces I would feel like I had to perform. Being the fifth pick there is pressure that comes with that and I did not want to try and make myself to feel pressure from not performing well. I just tried taking the positives of every at bat whether I struck out, hit a home run, got an out or got a hit. But I am motivating myself because next year I am going to do it in front of fans because I am not coming back [to Arizona] next year (laughs).
Q: Assuming you open at Lake County as expected, it will be cold in April and some of May. Have you played in cold weather before? That’s a lot tougher to do than some people realize.
CF: January and February are really cold for me in Georgia. I heard how cold it gets [in Cleveland]. One of the biggest quotes my high school coach would always tell me is “embrace the suck.” It is going to suck getting to the major leagues, and in Lake County the first two months the weather is going to be brutal, but it is going to be what I have to go through to be where I want to be.
Q: What about all that bat speed and power. You are not the biggest guy as far as height, weight and strength go, so where does it all come from? Some players just have a rare natural gift, and that might be yours.
CF: I don’t know (laughs). It is weird because people would always knock me for my power. They would always say that such is such is 6-foot-3 and he can do this better than Clint can. I don’t believe someone can do it better than me. I think it is fast twitch muscles. I am a smaller compact guy. If you look at my parents they are very athletic. My dad, mom and sister have an athletic background. I think it is just good genes. It starts from my forearms down. My wrist strength, my hand strength and my lower half strength. I can’t tell you where it came from. It is not normal. The hardest thing for me is people talk about the bat speed and the power, but I don’t see that. I am not looking at myself, so what I am doing doesn’t seem so great as you just get so used to it. It takes other people to point out the fact that there is something special in my swing otherwise I would have never noticed it.
Q: You have hit a lot of home runs as an amateur and hopefully many to come as a professional. While you say you want to be well-rounded with your game, the home run is still pretty fun, right?
CF: That is my favorite part of the game. I don’t think there is a better feeling than hitting a home for me. Just knowing it is gone right off the bat. It is just the feel. I have hit so many home runs in my 15 years of baseball it is just fun and I don’t think there is a better feeling.
Q: So what are you doing in the offseason?
CF: This is probably the best part about it. My neighbor is the minor league hitting coordinator for the Red Sox. I was going to go to the Red Sox if the Indians did not pick me. His name is Tim Hyers. I have such a good relationship with him and I am working out with him four days a week in the offseason. I will get back in the weight room. I have to put on some body fat. I am at 2.8% and I want to get to 10%. It is going to prevent me from soft tissue injury and cramping so much. I go to the bathroom three times in practice because I carry my water jug around with me. With low body fat percentage it is going to lead me to pull more muscles and cramp and have a lot of soft tissue damage.
Q: Wouldn’t there be a conflict of interest with you being a part of the Indians organization and working with a Red Sox coach?
CF: I talked to the Indians and they know him personally and they are fine with me working with him. The Indians do not care as long as we are sticking to a certain plan. The Red Sox might be the ones because they might be playing against me in a few years (laughs). In the end it is his and my decision. The first baseman for the Oakland A’sBrandon Moss went to my high school so we have a good relationship and I am hitting with him in the offseason. I live 15 minutes from Jeff Francoeur so I can work out with him. Brian McCann is right down the road and I know him personally.
Q: This is a big year coming up. It will be your first exposure to a full season of playing non-stop for about six to seven months. Do you know what you are in store for?
CF: I was talking to some girl back home and she asked what next year is going to be like for me. I said I think I played four days on and one day off [in Arizona]. Next year I am going to be gone for seven months and have seven days off all year. I get one day off a month and with eight hour bus rides it is going to be a grind. That is the most overused term I have heard in the last three years, but it is true.
Q: Having had the chance to watch you hit in Arizona, I noticed you have an interesting pre-bat routine where before you step into the box you hold the bat straight up in front of you and just stare at it. Is that just a gimmick or something you do as part of your pre-pitch setup?
CF: It is focusing on one thing. When I got a chance to sit down and talk with John Smoltz, he told me something I will always remember. If you go back and watch him when he was pitching he sometimes looked like he was off in a daze. He said if he threw a bad pitch he was looking at as many things as he could so he could get his mind off that bad pitch. I am not necessarily looking at my bat; I am looking through it and off into the distance and trying to clear my mind for the next pitch because those umpires can change an at bat quickly if they call a bad pitch. I always try to take a deep breath and focus in on my mind what I am doing at the plate. It is something I picked up in [Arizona] trying to make myself prepared for every single pitch. I will step outside of the box every single time and do that before I swing and it is part of my routine. I don’t know what it is really. I just try to zone in on the task at hand.
Q: What is the number one thing you want to work on before next year?
CF: I think going into next year it is just being a complete player. Not focusing on one aspect, but focusing on the big picture as a whole. Defense, baserunning, and offense. Everything you can think of. I am going to start bunting a little too. I don’t want to be a player that can do one thing. I want to be a player that can do everything. I am going to bunt. That is something me and Johnny Goryl have been working on and I am decent at it. That is the thing, is I look at Mike Trout and I see myself. The body types are the same and the way that we play the game is the same. He is someone I am striving to be better than. That is a huge thing to accomplish, but I am going to set the bar as high as I can until I can’t do it. But when you get the comparison of him, you want to be like him. My work ethic is going to put me in the situation I want to be in.
Q: Your work ethic and drive is very similar to that of Indians shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor. He is amazing with not only what he does on the field, but how he takes care of himself and presents himself off it. Have you met him?
CF: Yes, I was very impressed with him. Not just with how he talks, but when he unlocks his phone he had this background that I kept seeing. I finally just took it, and he has a custom background that his sister made and it has his goals he made for 2013. Every goal he had he wrote down and put it as his background. I asked why he did that, and he said because when I open my phone I want to see my own goals. He told me that the background of his phone he blew it up into a poster and hung it on his wall in his batting cage so when he is hitting he is looking at his goals too. He planted the seed in the back of my head. He is a good guy. When he talks I am listening. Just some of the things I thought I was ahead of the game on he is ahead of the game on it too. He told me he watchesWill Smith interviews. He tries to model the way that he does interviews the same way Will Smith does. If he uses a word he is going to look it up and then use it in an interview.
Q: You and Lindor make up a pretty nice prospect duo for the Indians and potential cornerstones of the franchise in a few years.
CF: He is going to be in the big leagues soon. That’s my goal to make it there faster than he does. I know that the Indians are really banking on me and him being in the middle of their field. I want to be there and be in center field and see the Lindor jersey in front of me.
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Based on Frazier's comments the future leader for the Indians will be Lindor. Could he be the Derek Jeter for the Indians?