No one ever told Todd Frazier he was going to be the Reds’ starting third baseman this season, maybe because it was just a given to most people. As important as Scott Rolen had been to the Reds the last four seasons, the time had come for Frazier to take over the position on an every-day basis.
Still, no one told that to Frazier directly. The closest he got to hearing it was while he was in the trainer’s room during spring training in Arizona. Frazier was getting treatment for a calf injury when he met up with manager Dusty Baker.
“Dusty said, ‘Hey man you’re not trying out for the team this year’ and it hit me then that I might have that spot, which was pretty nice, comforting,” said Frazier. “But I was never told.”
It was a surprise last year when Frazier didn’t make the Opening Day roster. He surprised a lot of people when, after getting the call up from AAA Louisville three weeks into the season, he played well enough to be voted by his peers as the National League’s Outstanding Rookie and finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
There are no surprises for Frazier this season. He is in the lineup, batting sixth, and going about his business like he belongs there, just as Rolen always did.
Friday night in the Reds’ 15-0 win against Washington, Frazier went 4-for-5, including hitting two of the six home runs by the Reds, knocked in four runs and scored three times in the club’s third consecutive victory. He’s hitting .471 in the early going of the season and is the only Red to have hit safely in the team’s first four games. He’s handled all but one chance in the field cleanly.
“I never thought he was going to have any issues filling in at third base,” said Jeff Brantley, Reds radio broadcaster. “The comparisons of him to Scott Rolen at third base are unfair for anybody. You’re talking about a guy who has a pretty good chance at being in the Hall of Fame.
“When I look at Todd, I see a guy who loves the game, No. 1, loves his teammates, No. 2, and he’s great at what he does. Otherwise he wouldn’t be here. The more that he’s around this type of atmosphere, which is winning baseball, I really believe it’s going to make him even better.”
Rolen came to the Reds in a trade with Toronto on July 31, 2009, and helped them win a pair of NL Central division titles. He was limited to 92 games last season because of injury and hit .245.
Rolen meant much more to the Reds and Frazier than his statistics.
“I learned how to prepare and how to play the game, third base especially, and how to go about your business over there and be professional,” said Frazier. “He was always that guy and he spoke with actions, not words. He was a great example to have.”
Frazier played in 128 games last season, hitting .273 with 19 home runs and 67 RBI. He played 39 games at first base in the absence of Joey Votto, 73 games at third base and another seven games in left field.
This offseason, Frazier worked on being ready to play third base. When he got to Goodyear for spring training, he and bench coach Chris Speier worked on the mechanics and fundamentals of playing the position. Speier played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues as an infielder.
“The really good third basemen, and probably all infielders, if you watch their pre-pitch movement, what they do prior to the pitch and how their feet get ready, at the point of contact you’ll see them be really light on their feet and getting their feet moving a little bit,” said Speier. “I talk about tennis players and their return of service those guys do is the same type of feeling we have to have as infielders. It’s to get him comfortable and getting his feet in the proper position at the proper time, so we worked on that.”
Frazier was tested in the first inning Friday night. Jayson Werth hit a bounding ball into the hole. He moved to his left, cut the ball off in front of shortstop Zack Cozart and threw to Votto at first base for the out after squaring his body.
At the plate, Frazier’s solo home run with one out in the second inning gave the Reds their first run of the game. He added a two-run home run in the 7-run seventh inning and drove in Jay Bruce with the final run of the game with a single in the eighth inning.
“This year is a difference but it’s what you’ve always wanted to be, what you’ve always dreamed of. It’s what you play the game for, to have a set position and to have no worries in knowing that you’re that guy,” said Frazier. “Knowing that, my comfort level is a little more there and I’m very happy. I’m delighted to be at third base – it’s where I want be. In case something happens I’ll be that utility guy again but it’s nice to have that one position.”