CINCINNATI — Todd Frazier signed as a shortstop and thought he would die as a shortstop. Third base. That’s for masochists, guys with a death wish.
So when minor-league manager Freddie Benavides called him aside in 2008 and said, "We’re going to start moving you around, check you out at other positions," Frazier was aghast.
"What? I only made nine errors at shortstop and you’re going to move me? Are you kidding me?" said Frazier.
Now it is six years later and Frazier is manning third base for the Cincinnati Reds and doing his best imitation of Brooks Robinson. He smiled broadly and said, "You know what? It’s crazy. If I had insisted on staying at shortstop I’m sure I would not be in the big leagues right now."
Benavides, a former major-league shortstop is a Reds coach right now and works often with Frazier, who said, "And I still give him a bad time about making me change and he says, ‘Oh you gonna bring that up again?’"
Frazier has made four errors this year and at least four times that many sensational stops and throws.
To Frazier, third base is all about giving up your body, and your face, to stop what comes your way in any way you can.
"You stop the ball any way you can, get in front of it and play it off your chest or your face," he said. "I’ve taken quite a few off my face. Y’know, I could be like Roger Dorn in the movie Major League and ole everything. But that doesn’t get the job done."
Frazier is particularly proud of a play made in Chicago with the bases loaded and Tony Cingrani on the mound. A ball was hit toward Frazier and he stopped it with his nose, picked it up and threw out the runner.
"A run scored, but I save another one from scoring so we were only down a run instead of two," he said. "The next day Chicago pitcher Jeff Samardzija came up to me and said, ‘That’s was a great play. Pitchers appreciate guys like you who sacrifice their bodies to save them runs.’" And Cingrani patted him on the back and thanked him for preserving his earned run average.
Frazier took over third base last year after the retirement of Scott Rolen, who won enough Gold Gloves to burden any mantel piece.
"I kind of surprise even myself a little bit," said Frazier, who made only 10 errors in 150 games last year. "I knew I could play it from what I’d been taught. I have to give credit to (infield coach last year) Chris Speier and definitely Scott Rolen.
"They showed me the little stuff, about where to position myself," he said. "Now me and Benavides have been getting after it a little bit to be in the right position so I’m not a guy who has to dive all the time. That’s what homework is about (studying hitters) and that’s what Benavides is about. He’s out there to make the best third baseman I can be. I know I can be better."
Frazier’s bat is becoming more and more adept, too. He leads the Reds in both home runs (seven) and RBI (21). And his home runs are not wall-scrapers. They are cloud-bursters and some need surveryors to calculate the distance.
On the last homestand Frazier hit one 481 feet, a ball that landed on the deck of the mock riverboat high above the center field wall. It was the sixth longest home run in Great American Ball Park history.
Frazier watched the replay on a clubhouse TV after the game and shook his head. "I think they’re shorting me on my distances. But I’m creeping up that distance ladder."
The longest home run in GABP history was blasted by former Reds first baseman Adam Dunn, a ball that left the stadium, landed on Mehring Way behind the park and came to rest on a piece of wood floating near the north bank of the Ohio River. It was 535 feet.
"I’ll get that," Frazier said. "But first I have to shoot at the Toyota Tundra. Now that’s a poke." The Toyota Tundra is on a platform in right center, next to the fake riverboat paddle wheeler, estimated at 520 feet from home plate. If a player hits the truck, it belongs to him, so whoever does it doesn’t want to break out the windshield.
Nobody appreciates Frazier, a 6-3, 220-pound first-round pick in 2007, more than manager Bryan Price.
"The thing about Frazier is that the same guy shows up every day," said Price. "If he is 1 for his last 17 or 11 for his last 20 the energy, the preparation, the positive approach, the encouragement of his teammates, the energy he takes to the field is always there."
Price pointed out a superb defensive play Frazier made Saturday night when the team was down 7-1.
"To play the defense he plays, like he did last night during a game in which we’re getting drubbed — it’s every game, every play with him. He never takes a pitch off."
Rolen as about as close as anybody could come to being the defensive third baseman that Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson was. And Frazier wasn’t born when Robinson stopped everything at third base but a tornado.
"But I heard of him, I know he was," said Frazier. "I’d never compare myself to him or even say I’ll one day be as good as he was. But he would be nice to be mentioned with him in the same story."