Yep. That's the smile.
To watch Todd Frazier play is to watch a throwback. Frazier, a supplemental 1st round draft pick out of Rutgers in the 2007 amateur draft, was a highly regarded shortstop with a pedigree of success dating all the way back to his 1998 Little League World Series Championship days in Toms River, NJ. Standing almost 6 foot 4 and weighing well over 200 pounds, Frazier was a big kid, likely too big to stay at SS for long, but nimble enough to end up at another position requiring above-average athleticism. Hitting right handed, he had some decent pop, and while he was a bit of a free swinger, he had a solid eye at the plate, too.
Hell, he even loves Frank Sinatra. That much, we knew.
Flash back to 2011, if you will. Frazier got one AB in a 1-day call-up in May, and was promptly returned to AAA Louisville, not to be recalled until July 22. By that point, the Reds were 3 games under .500, playing bad baseball, and genuinely disappointing based upon their 2010 breakout season. Scott Rolen was fighting injuries, again. Juan Francisco, consistently favored by Reds management as the next 3B behind Rolen, was also fighting injuries, again. The roster was a mess (namely LF, SS, and 3B), the pitching was bad, and 5 days later the effervescent clubhouse leader, Jonny Gomes, was traded to the Nationals.
Maybe the Reds realized something about Frazier that we fans had not yet seen. The Frazier that flew mostly under the radar until that late-season summoning to the Major League was a character, a personality and a livelihood that was much needed in the Reds clubhouse following Gomes' departure. Frazier was constantly smiling in the dugout, constantly asking veterans Scott Rolen and Miguel Cairo for advice, and constantly playing a kid's game the way a kid's game should be played - like a kid. On the surface, it may have seemed like the normal naive youthfulness shown by average rookies; however, Frazier was a seasoned 25 year old with 3 years of minors experience (the last two as one of the top prospects in the entire Reds system.) He would wrap up that MLB stint with a .727 OPS over 121 PAs.
Before the 2012 season, Frazier watched as Yonder Alonso and Juan Francisco, his main competition for a spot on the 25 man roster, were traded away, and he wrapped up his Spring Training having led the Reds in HR, RBI, SLG, and OPS. Despite all of that, he was again sent down to AAA, again. In an age when players often pout and demand trades and where Scott Boras clients refuse to consider contract extensions, it would not have surprised me much if Frazier had been angry. In fact, I probably would have been, and probably would've let it show. Instead, he took it in stride, and when he was called up again on April 19th, he was wearing the same Todd Frazier smile we had first seen that last July.
As baseball's oldest franchise, it's not surprising that the Reds have had their fair share of fantastic rookie performances in their storied history. Kal Daniels' 1986 season showed his immense talent, as did Adam Dunn's 2001 mid-season callup. Ken Griffey the elder was brought up midway through the 1973 season and showed his promise to the tune of a .994 OPS over his 92 PA.
Frankly (and I do mean Frankly), I was shocked to find out that since Frank Robinson's Rookie of the Year campaign in 1956 (where he posted a .936 OPS in 667 PA), there has only been one Reds' rookie to have a higher OPS than Frazier's current .894 (minimum 300 PA)...and that was Austin Kearns and his .907 OPS in 2002 (435 PA). 20 year old Vada Pinson had a remarkable .880 OPS in 706 PAs in his rookie year, and our current MVP Joey Votto's 24 year old rookie season was nothing to scoff at (.874 OPS in 589 PA), but so far Frazier's has been, by this measure, better.
As a sidenote, the rookie season that I like to compare to Frazier's most is Hal Morris' 1990. Morris came up and split time with Todd Benzinger, and proceeded to mash to the tune of an .880 OPS over 336 PA. And, of course, we all know what happened in 1990.
Frazier's .290/.346/.548 line is, by all accounts, better than any projection that was given for him. Neither ZIPS nor PECOTA had him capable of this, nor did the ever-optimistic Bill James. It's pretty easy to see why, too, when you take a close look at his career stats from the minors. While he'd had no issues putting up numbers like this in the lower levels, nothing about his AAA production suggested that his career arc had these type of power numbers involved. The walk rate was there, and the ability to hit for decent average had been shown, but extrapolating a .548 SLG% in the majors out of a .453 SLG% in over 1000 AAA PAs was hard to see.
The beauty of what Frazier has done, I think, is that it's not a product of GABP. While he's put up a solid .276/.324/.532 (.856) line at home, he's well outperfomed that on the road, going .305/.368/.565 (.933). That's right, folks...better average, better OBP, and better slugging outside of our homer-friendly park.
He's had 206 PAs as a 3B, and has a .902 OPS in those. He's had 103 PAs as a 1B, and has an .875 OPS in those. In 222 ABs vs. RHP, he's got a .284/.346/.548 (.895) line, and in 95 PA vs. LHP he's got a .307/.347/.545 (.893) line.
First half? .901 OPS. Second half? .886 OPS. With RISP? .871 OPS. With men on? .968 OPS. With a man on 3rd and less than 2 out? 1.068 OPS. With a man on 3rd and 2 out? 1.300 OPS. In "Late & Close" scenarios? .907 OPS. High leverage? 1.092 OPS.
I could go on, of course, but my point is that even if you tried to pick apart his season to define him as a one-trick pony or a guy with a hole in his swing, you can't. You can point at his .336 BABIP and say that it's too high, and that could be true, but even with that normalized his production would be off-the-charts good for a Reds rookie.
We don't know what the future will hold for the Reds and Todd Frazier. Both Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick will have the opportunity to leave the club after this season, as will Miguel Cairo. Frazier's name will certainly be in the mix for the starting 3B spot, the starting LF spot, and for the roving utility role he's filled this season. While I can't say I expect him to do next year what he's done this year, something similar wouldn't completely surprise me; he wouldn't be the first prospect to have their power numbers suppressed by AAA Louisville. We were able to pick apart the breakout years by Chris Heisey, Drew Stubbs, and Alonso's 2011, to an extent, and identify reasons why their success wasn't necessarily going to translate well over time; with Frazier's 2012, I can't definitively say that, and it's got my imagination going wild...with a Frazier sized smile on my mug.