Why Clint Frazier isn’t a solution for the KC Royals

(Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

That there is no solid free agent help for the KC Royals among this winter’s Yankee free agents is a point recently made in this space. But does the fact New York has now designated Clint Frazier for assignment change anything, especially considering the uncertainty hovering over right field in Kansas City?

The answer depends, of course, on how unsettled the Royals believe their right field situation is, and how seriously they might think Frazier is a solution.

But regardless of how they view right field, whether to pursue Frazier isn’t something the Royals need to long consider.

The answer is an easily defensible “No.”

That may not have been the case eight years ago when Cleveland made prep star Frazier, 2013’s Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, the fifth overall selection in that summer’s amateur draft. Frazier signed and soon debuted in Rookie ball with a 44-game .297/.362/.506 line. His 2014-2015 performance—a .275 average with 29 home runs, 122 RBIs and 27 stolen bases—made Cleveland’s decision to start him at Double-A Akron in 2016 easy.

Frazier proved the decision wise by hitting .276 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs in 89 games and earning a late July promotion to Triple-A. But just days later, the bullpen help seeking Indians included him in a four-player trade to the Yankees for Andrew Miller.

Frazier made it to New York a year later and hit .239 in 39 games. He’s bounced back and forth from the majors to the minors since, compiling a pedestrian .258/.331/.475 big league line with 24 homers in 162 games.

This year, though, was disastrous. Vertigo stole half his season (he last played June 30) and he hit .186 with five homers in 66 games. And in a short big league career spanning parts of five seasons, he’s hitting just .239.

Encouraging, though, is a career .327 OBP fueled by walk rates of 15.6% in 2020 and 14.7% this season. But his career strikeout rate is 29.1%.

And Frazier’s glove is not the kind the defensively-minded KC Royals relish—he has a career .975 fielding percentage, and his right field performance (.964) is 20 points below league average.

The KC Royals have a better right field option for 2022 than Clint Frazier.

For Kansas City, Clint Frazier represents a solution for a problem that isn’t so serious that it requires him to solve it. The Royals began 2021 with rookie Kyle Isbel in right field, and he was hitting .265 when the club sent him back to Triple-A Omaha in late April. The club tried others in right, including Hunter Dozier, Ryan O’Hearn, Edward Olivares, Jarrod Dyson, and Jorge Soler; Dyson and Soler are gone and not likely to return, while Dozier, O’Hearn and Olivares never distinguished themselves as players to whom KC should give the job on a full-time basis.

But Isbel is different. MLB Pipeline rates him the organization’s fifth best prospect (behind only Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto, Asa Lacy, and MJ Melendez); the Royals seemed to recognize his value when they recalled him in mid-September—although he played center nine times and right field four, regular center fielder and new Gold Glover Michael A. Taylor isn’t going anywhere, so right, where Isbel didn’t make an error in 14 2021 games (he fielded flawlessly in center and left, also), remains open.

Isbel also excelled at the plate when he returned to Kansas City, slashing .286/.362/.524 with five doubles, a triple, and a homer in 16 games. He finished the campaign at .276 with a .337 OBP. (He’s also speedy—he stole 22 bases at Omaha).

The Royals’ homegrown young outfielder—KC picked him in the third round of the 2018 draft and he’ll turn 25 in April—is also under team control through the 2027 season; Frazier, on the other hand, is arbitration-eligible and can test free agency after the 2024 campaign.

So, should the KC Royals pursue Frazier at Isbel’s expense? No, not unless they prefer to hand right field to someone who’s struggled to prove himself and promises less upside than a potential-packed top prospect who they’ve raised to play in Kauffman Stadium.

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Clint Frazier could be a right field candidate for the KC Royals. But the club needs to give its first right field shot to Kyle Isbel.