Height 6-3, Weight 220, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/12/1986
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #6
Todd Frazier is obviously one of the rising stars in the Reds farm system. He combines a tremendous baseball IQ with very strong baseball skills. He has an innate understanding of how to play the game. The beginning of his professional career has been impressive, but he seems poised to take a significant step forward in 2009.
The Reds continued their trend of advancing prospects rather slowly up the ladder. Frazier, a polished college product was sent back to low-A Dayton to start off 2008. In Dayton, Frazier wasted no time in proving that he was ready for more advanced competition. He posted a stellar slash line of .321/.402/.598/1.000 with 7 homeruns and a 28/15 K/BB ratio in 124 plate appearances. It was obvious for all to see that Frazier needed a promotion and the Reds responded by moving him up to high-A Sarasota.
At Sarasota, Frazier posted a solid .281/.357/.451/.808 slash line with 12 homers and an 84/41 K/BB ratio in 414 plate appearances. Not the most impressive line, but once again context goes a long way, as Frazer was better than his overall numbers. He posted an eye popping line drive rate of 26%, but suffered from the very pitcher-friendly environment in Sarasota. In addition, he was likely a bit unlucky, as his BABIP was "only" .337. Obviously, a .337 mark is ordinarily above average, but it actually seems a bit low in light of his 26% line drive rate. Frazier's overall numbers were dragged down by a bit of bad hit luck and a very unfriendly hitting environment. Even so, the Reds kept him in Sarasota to finish out the season.
As if to illustrate the point that his overall numbers weren't indicative of his true level of performance, Frazier played in the Hawaiian Winter Leagues and quickly took out his frustrations on the opposing pitchers. In Hawaii, he posted a line of .350/.364/.700/1.064 with 1 homer and a 3/0 K/BB ratio.
Oddly enough, the Reds still have yet to decide on a full-time position for Frazier, as during his three stops in 2008 he played shortstop, designated hitter, first base, third base, and leftfield.
Part of the debate on Todd Frazier in prospect circles centers on his unorthodox swing. So, we might as well take another look. The defining characteristic of Frazier's swing is the complete extension of his left arm before the pitch arrives. For comparison sake, below there is a photo of Frazier in between photos of two of the best right-handed hitters of the modern era.
Edgar Martinez and Albert Pujols are two of the best right-handed hitters of all-time and, not surprisingly, have swings that are very fundamentally sound. On the left, Edgar has just completed his stride and has begun to fire his hips. However, for our purposes, the important thing to look at is his left arm, which is bent at the elbow. On the right, Albert Pujols is in the middle of his stride, which is largely just picking up the front foot and placing it back down. However, as with Edgar, you can see some bend in Pujols' lead elbow. If you look at the photo in the middle, then you can see Todd Frazier in mid-stride with a completely extended lead arm. There is no bend in his lead elbow, as he is basically using an "arm bar" type swing. He's managed to reduce it a bit at the professional level, but it is still very pronounced in his swing.
The obvious question on this type of swing is whether it prevents the hitter from handling the inside pitches. If the hitter's arms are extended well before contact, then it becomes much more difficult to turn on inside pitches. This has been the concern with Frazier since his professional debut, but he continues to defy expectations. He obviously understands his swing and what he needs to do to make it work for him. At this point, there is yet to be any indication that Frazier cannot be successful with his current swing. Despite the "arm bar," Frazier gets himself into good hitting position in the contact zone, which is the most important consideration.
Again, comparing Frazier with Pujols (see: photos below), you can see a lot of similarities despite the differences in the early stages of their swings. In the contact zone, their lower bodies are in similar positions and they both keep their head down on the ball. In addition, their hips and shoulders have rotated similar amounts, though Frazier has opened up faster. The main difference between the two can be seen by comparing the position of the right arm. Pujols is effectively utilizing both arms in his swing, but the position of Frazier's right arm indicates that his swing is driven largely by strong shoulder rotation and pulling through with his lead arm. That's especially true on inside pitches, as his "arm bar" swing leaves him little option but to speed up the rotation of his shoulders and spin open to get the bat on the ball.
As of now, the concerns about Frazier's swing are being drastically outweighed by his non-stop production. It's undeniably unorthodox, but style always yields to substance. Frazier continues to get the job done. It's been that way since the Little League World Series all the way through to the professional level and there isn't any reason why it can't continue at the higher levels.
DEFENSE AND POSITIONAL VALUE
Over the past few years, the Reds player development philosophy seems to have changed, as they have become very deliberate in advancing prospects up the ladder. One would think an advanced college prospect like Frazier would have reached double-A by now, but the Reds have moved him slowly. In addition, another interesting aspect of the development philosophy is their hesitancy to lock players into a defensive position.
As the Reds have improved their farm system, they have added more talent at every position, which has created logjams at the less demanding defensive positions. Instead of being proactive, the Reds have chosen to keep players in positions where there are unlikely to play at the MLB level. Frazier is the clear example of that, as he is still playing primarily shortstop despite the fact that he simply doesn't project as an MLB shortstop.
Frazier lacks the first step quickness and good footwork needed to play shortstop at the higher levels. That said, he is very fundamentally sound. He has good hands and a strong arm, both of which play very well at third base. In addition, his skill set profiles well in leftfield. Ultimately, the Reds simply need to decide where they need him most and let him learn the nuances of that position. Versatility is great, but Frazier has the ability to be an every day player and it's time the Reds develop him accordingly.
Frazier is a very promising prospect. He's a very good athlete and his baseball IQ and overall makeup allow his skill set to play up a tick. His intangibles are very strong, which should make him a good addition on the field and off. Frazier is a heady player who makes his unorthodox swing work for him and once he is given a permanent position, he should be on the fast track to the majors. At this point, Edwin Encarnacion's glove may create an opening at third base and Frazier has the skills to fill that opening. For now, Frazier checks in at #3 on the list and it shouldn't be long before he's making an impact at the MLB level.