A reader recently asked for a Prospect Retrospective on Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. This is an interesting case: Frazier was on prospect lists for several years and for a while it looked like he might not get a full opportunity. However, he's since fully established himself as a full-time component in the Reds lineup and is on course for a solid career.
Todd Frazier was a star at Rutgers University, holding a regular job from his freshman year forward. His junior season in 2007 was particularly strong: he hit .377/.502/.757 with 22 homers, 25 steals, 62 walks, and 51 strikeouts in 247 at-bats. However, offense was at all-time highs in the NCAA and while his skills were well-respected, his physical tools were rated as just decent. There were also concerns about his future position and his swing mechanics, factors which dropped him to the supplemental first round, selected 34th overall.
He debuted in the Pioneer League and performed well, hitting .319/.409/.513 in 41 games. The report on Frazier entering 2008:
A star at Rutgers, Frazier earned a supplemental first round slot in the draft last year. He could end up being a star in the majors, too, at least offensively. Although some scouts have complaints about his swing mechanics, they’ve never hurt him in games. His strike zone judgment is good, and he has power to all fields. There are questions about his glove and where he fits on the field. He has a strong arm, but his range at shortstop is limited: just about everyone thinks he’ll have to move to third base. His hands may not be good enough for third, however, and some project he’ll have to play the outfield, which will reduce the value of his bat. A few unanswered questions, yes, but I’m confident in his offense. Grade B
Frazier opened '08 with Dayton in the Low-A Midwest League, battering younger pitching at a .321/.402/.598 clip in 30 games. Promoted to High-A Sarasota in the more difficult Florida State League, he hit .287/.357/.451 in 100 contests. He combined for 19 homers and 12 steals and held down the fort at shortstop. The report entering '09:
I liked Frazier coming out of Rutgers, and so far he’s done nothing to disappoint me, posting a +15 percent OPS in the Florida State League, demonstrating solid power potential and good plate discipline. Scouts praise his work ethic and instincts, and while some quibble about his unorthodox swing, most believe he’ll continue to produce similar numbers at higher levels. The main question for Frazier is defense. He is a reliable shortstop in terms of avoiding mistakes, posting a solid .981 fielding percentage at the position last year, but scouts say his range is below average and that he’s better-suited for third base or the outfield at higher levels. It is uncertain how the Reds will use him, and he could eventually end up as trade bait. However Frazier fits with the glove, I think he will be an effective major league hitter, a .280, 15-20 homer type with a good OBP; not a star but very solid. Grade B
Moved up to Double-A Carolina for 2009, he continued to hit well with a .290/.350/.481 line in 119 games, then finished up with 16 games for Triple-A Louisville producing a .302/.362/.476 slash. The Reds moved him off shortstop and he played all over the field but the positional instability did not impact his hitting. I upgraded his rating for 2010:
Todd Frazier is a solid hitter with adequate plate discipline, a good contact rate, and excellent doubles power. Check out this steady production: +15 percent OPS in the Florida State League in ’08, +17 percent in the Southern League in ’09, then +16 percent after a late promotion to Triple-A. No slippage at all as he moves up, which is an excellent sign for his future. The main question for Frazier remains defense. The Reds have used him everywhere except catcher and general manager. This is testimony to Frazier’s athleticism and adaptability. Most scouts seem to think his best position is third base, but the Reds used him mostly in the outfield and at second last year. Scott Rolen’s contract expires after 2010, so a logical course of action would be to send Frazier back to Triple-A in ’10, then give him a shot at the third base job in ’11. His other most likely use is as trade bait. Although I don’t expect Frazier will be a superstar, I do think he’ll be a solid major league player for a long time once they figure out where to play him. Grade B+
The return engagement at Louisville for 2010 did not go as well. He got off to a very slow start, struggling around the Mendoza Line for the first half, with some scouts saying "I told you so" about the swing mechanics issue. He improved as the season progressed and finished at .258/.333/.448 with 17 homers and 14 steals but a less attractive 45/127 BB/K mark. The Reds continued the positional switching as well. While the season was not terrible in absolute terms, it was disappointing and he was starting to slip on the age curve with no clear position for him in Cincinnati:
I’ve been pro-Todd Frazier for several years, seeing him as a guy who was going to be a solid player who could contribute in many ways. He got off to a slow start last year, hitting .197 on June 1st, but he got hot after that and hit .290/.384/.470 post All Star Break, in line with past performance. His strikeout rate spiked upward, not a good sign, but he still produced decent power and stole some bases. He got most of his playing time in the left field last year, also spotting in some games at first base and third base. Although he’s now 25 and doesn’t have a lot of development time left, I still see him as a guy who can be a very useful super-utility player, capable of filling in anywhere on the diamond except catcher, while providing some juice with the bat. I was too high with the Grade B+ last year, but he should still have a good career. Grade B-.
Still looking for regular work, Frazier returned to Louisville in 2011 and hit .260/.340/.467 in 90 games with 15 homers, 17 steals, and a 34/82 BB/K in 315 at-bats. He got into 41 games for the Reds and showed some power, hitting six homers and slugging .438 in 112 at-bats but having issues with strike zone judgment and contact, leading to an overall .238/.289 AVE/OBP mark. There were still complaints about his swing and he was now 26 years old. The last book comment entering 2012:
Todd Frazier has nothing left to prove in the minors, and after two seasons in Triple-A, we now have a good read on his skills. He has very good power to all fields, but hasn’t hit for high batting averages against advanced pitching due to an aggressive approach and some mechanical issues with his swing. In the majors, he projects as a .240-.260 hitter, albeit with enough sock in his bat to be useful. His best position is third base, but he can also play all the other infield positions and even corner outfield without being a liability. In these days of small benches and huge pitching staffs, a guy like Frazier should be a perfect fit as a utility man, with versatility and enough juice in his bat to stay employed for a long time. Grade C+
As you know, Frazier was able to take a regular job that year, hitting .273/.331/.498 with 19 homers in 422 at-bats, 2.6 fWAR. He played every day in 2013 with some slippage in slash production (.234/.314/.407, 19 homers) but good defensive play leading to a 3.2 fWAR, then took a step forward in 2014 (.273/.336/.459, 29 homers, 20 steals, 4.8 fWAR).
Overall, through 476 major league games, Frazier has hit .258/.325/.451, 113 wRC+, 11.3 fWAR. In 162-game notation, his line comes out at 28 doubles, 25 homers, and 10 steals per season.
My early projections for Frazier saw him as a .280 hitter with moderate power. That was later adjusted to a .240-.260 hitter but with a higher ISO, which is pretty much what he has become. Despite all the positional switching early in his career, he's settled in as a very good defensive third baseman, which is what scouts projected back when he was in college.
Sim Scores to this point in his career bring up a list of mostly solid players: Ty Wigginton, Dave Hollins, Josh Donaldson, Wily Mo Pena (oops), Craig Monroe, Harry Anderson (who had three good years in the 1950s then got hurt), Jeffrey Hammonds, Yoenis Cespedes, Jim Greengrass, and Cody Ross. It is interesting that there are several outfielders there with just the top three being third basemen. Baseball Prospectus' comparable system points to Chase Headley, David Freese, Garrett Atkins, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adrian Beltre (woah), Wilson Betemit, Eric Chavez, Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Teahen, and Chris Johnson as parallels.
In other words, it took some time to get there but Frazier ended up being what both the scouts and the numbers said he was supposed to be: a very solid regular.