Brett Gardner and Clint Frazier will spend Spring Training battling for the starting spot in left field, but Aaron Boone seems to already favor Frazier.
Spring Training has just begun for the Yankees, but manager Aaron Boone is already dropping hints about which players he thinks will win starting positions for 2019. His early words about the battle in left field bode really well for Clint Frazier.
The young redhead will need to knock Brett Gardner out of the lineup if he wants to play everyday this season. A big part of the calculus for Frazier will be staying healthy. He missed a ton of time in 2018 due to issues surrounding multiple concussions.
That isn’t the only thing he needs to do to close the gap on Gardner though. Part of the veteran’s value to the Yankees is the excellent defense he gives Boone in left field. Gardner isn’t capable of playing center field any longer, but the advanced metrics still show him to be a plus outfielder in left.
That’s the part of the game where Boone is already talking Frazier up. The second-year manager went out of his way to compliment Frazier for a pretty innocuous defensive play in the team’s opening game of Spring Training on Saturday. Specifically, Boone gave Frazier credit for “backing up a throw in the infield.”
For some managers that could safely be classified as a throwaway comment. Boone isn’t that type of speaker with the media though. He chooses his words very carefully. His choice to praise Frazier for a standard defensive play is a part of a larger strategy he’s using with the press.
Boone wants to prepare the public for the possibility that Frazier is going to take Gardner’s job when the regular season begins. It’s obvious the Yankees would like to go with the 24-year-old upstart over the 35-year-old veteran if their play in the Spring is relatively close. At this point in their respective careers, Frazier has a significant advantage in terms of upside.
The fact that Gardner is the longest tenured Yankee on the current roster means that easing him onto the bench needs to be handled delicately by Boone. He can’t throw out a player with that much fan equity out like yesterday’s garbage. The narrative that Frazier is ready to overtake him must begin now if it’s going to take firm hold by the time April arrives.
The good news for Gardner is that he’s going to find a way to get significant at bats even if he isn’t the Opening Day starter in left. He’s got the versatility to play all three outfield spots in a pinch and his left-handed bat will be useful against tough righties. Gardner’s speed can also make him a weapon off of Boone’s bench.
It’s too soon to say the Yankees are ready to declare Frazier the winner in the left field battle, but Boone is working the media to make sure that remains an option in the court of public opinion. He’ll have every opportunity to take Gardner’s job this Spring.