MOOSIC, Pa. — The Yankees’ Class AAA team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, is only two and a half hours away from Yankee Stadium. But for outfielder Clint Frazier, who has spent the last two months here working on his defense, it feels much farther — especially as the Yankees call up others and charge ahead in the standings without him.
It is quiet here, a contrast to Frazier’s brash personality and flashy style. He still longs for New York and the major leagues, of course, but he has grown more at peace with his demotion on June 17, which came after costly defensive lapses and questions about his demeanor. In some respects, he’s even embraced it.
“Coming down here, where 50,000 people aren’t sitting in the stands and there aren’t all the cameras, has helped kind of just be able to work in silence,” he said in an interview this week.
He added: “All my energy is going into being a defender because if I’m fortunate to get that call back, man, I want to be in the outfield and turn heads and people be like, ‘Wow, this guy has been working down there.’”
Sitting in a dugout at PNC Field, Frazier said his time in the minors leagues has been encouraging. He insisted that being demoted had not been a punishment, but rather an opportunity to address his weaknesses — and a response to the Yankees’ acquiring Edwin Encarnacion, which figured to eat into his playing time.
“Everyone is trying to write it like I’m in juvie down here,” Frazier said, referring to juvenile detention.
Weeks after his demotion, Frazier, 24, had a phone conversation with Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and asked what he needed to do to get back to the big leagues. Cashman, he said, was “brutally honest.”
The necessary improvement was obvious: defense. His stout hitting — .283 with 11 home runs in 53 games — helped the Yankees overcome injuries to outfielders Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks earlier in the season. But his porous efforts in the outfield — the worst, he said, of his entire life — had cost them games.
“I can’t be mad about my situation,” he said. “Ultimately, I put myself here.”
Instead, Frazier has poked fun at it on social media. With rumors of his name surfacing in trade talks flying two days before the July 31 deadline, Frazier cryptically tweeted, “hdhdtsdgidrsfjhefz!!!!!!” Hours after the deadline passed with Frazier remaining a Yankee, he tweeted a video of Woody, the “Toy Story” character, bursting through a door and knocking back his cowboy hat with a swaggering grin.
A few days later, after Frazier was passed over for a promotion back to the majors when Hicks landed again on the injured list, a photograph appeared on Frazier’s Instagram account — showing him sitting on the floor of a parking garage with the hood of a red sweatshirt covering his bowed head and a hauntingly lit “Scranton Life” sign in the background. Fans interpreted it as a melancholic commentary from Frazier.
“Honestly, no,” he said this week. “I was laughing, smiling. I took multiple pictures, and the one with the hood down just happened to look, honestly, the coolest.” He also praised Mike Tauchman, the hot-hitting and sure-handed outfielder who earned a call-up in late June over him.
But because of Frazier’s past, some fans were unsure how to interpret his messages. He has struggled to toe the line between individuality and the Yankees’ buttoned-up way. So much about him becomes a topic of conversation — from his hair that ran counter to the Yankees’ strict policies to his defiant comments about not addressing his defensive miscues to all of the sneaker, cleat and Yankees photos recently removed from his Instagram account. And when his on-field play sputtered, his brashness and fashion hobby became easy targets.
“Sometimes I might push things a little too far,” he said. “But if you zoom out and look what I’m actually doing, it’s not even a problem. The times I had long hair, the times I had a nose ring or wanting to put cleats on the bottom of my shoes — none of this is actually harming anybody, but yet it seems like it is.”
His fielding, though, has certainly hindered the Yankees at times. To improve, Frazier has leaned heavily on the RailRiders defensive coach Julio Borbon, a former major league outfielder.
Frazier said the Yankees used a computer simulation earlier this season to show him that he was too quick in his initial route to the ball, then inexplicably slower than average the closer he got. He also had a tendency to break the wrong way or take his eyes off the ball to check his surroundings — the latter a habit formed out of fear of reinjuring his head following a concussion that wiped out most of his 2018 season.
He said coaches were helping him correct that with repetitive drills, which he said he didn’t get enough of in the off-season while recovering from the concussion, and with a focus on initially slowing down to make sure he has a firm grasp of the ball’s flight before racing to position himself where it will land. On Tuesday, Frazier saved runs for the RailRiders with a diving catch and a throw home.
“I can’t tell you enough how impressed I’ve been with the way he’s gone about his work,” RailRiders Manager Jay Bell said.
Frazier insisted he was in “positive spirits” in the minors. While his hitting started off slowly when he arrived, it has picked up. Now, with as much patience as he can muster, he waits to see if and when he will return to the Yankees.
“It’s crazy that I’m not in the big leagues,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I know I’m not a finished product, but I don’t know if anyone is a finished product up there. I think I need to be tested against major league pitching and defense in the outfield in every aspect.
“But I’m not the one that gets to make those decisions, so I’m going to continue to help the Scranton RailRiders while I can. If I’m called up and fortunate enough to help them again, then I’ll be more prepared.”