Pittsburgh Pirates outfield prospect Matt Fraizer had a big breakout season in 2021. Is this performance sustainable?
The Pittsburgh Pirates got plenty of strong seasons from their prospects in 2021. Nick Gonzales, Oneil Cruz, Roansy Contreras, and Endy Rodriguez are only the highlights, but many others performed well throughout the Pirate system. They also had many breakout campaigns. Not only was Matt Frazier’s 2021 breakout the biggest in the Pirate organization, but arguably the biggest across minor league baseball. However, was his big season a sign of things to come, or a fluke?
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Fraizer in the third round of the 2019 draft. Coming into the draft Fraizer was a light-hitting speedy outfield type with a solid glove. His first taste of professional action was poor at best. In 171 plate appearances, Fraizer batted just .221/.287/.266 with a .266 wOBA, and 71 wRC+. He hit no home runs and had an isolated slugging percentage of just .045. His plate discipline wasn’t anything to write home about either with a 22.2% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate.
However, this past season was phenomenal for Fraizer. In 499 plate appearances at High-A and Double-A, Fraizer batted .306/.388/.552 with a .402 wOBA, and 149 wRC+. Fraizer still kept a healthy 21.6% strikeout rate but upped his walk rate to 11.2%.
The most notable aspect he improved upon was his power output. He hit 23 home runs with a .246 ISO. Fraizer was tied with Mason Martin for the third-highest ISO in the system (min. 300 plate appearances). Only Nick Gonzales and Oneil Cruz outdid the two. MLB Pipeline also mentioned that he started to tap into his raw power ability. He does stand at 6’3, 217, so he does have the frame to generate power.
Fraizer did improve his batted ball rates by a noticeable amount. In 2019, he had a 47.4% ground ball rate. This season he lowered that by over 10% to 37.2%. This led to him hitting more fly balls. He saw his fly ball rate skyrocket from 32.5% to 40.5%. He also saw a slight uptick in line drives from 20.2% to 22.3%.
Overall, those are almost identical to Kansas City Royal longtime backstop Salvador Perez put up in 2021. He had a 22.7% line drive rate, 37.2% ground ball rate, and 40.1% fly ball rate. You could also draw similar comparisons to St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Tyler O’Neill, Milwaukee Brewer infielder Willy Adames, Los Angeles Dodger utility man Chris Taylor, and American League MVP Shohei Ohtani.
All of Fraizer’s batted ball numbers are similar to those of power hitters in the major leagues. Among all qualified major leaguers with a fly ball of at least 40%, only one had fewer than 20 home runs, that being Royals’ Andrew Benintendi at 17. It’s also not as if Fraizer became super pull-happy either. While he did pull the ball at a 41.4% rate, he still went oppo 34.1% of the time, and up the middle at a 24.5% rate. He was able to hit toward all fields with regularity.
Fraizer has the build to be a power hitter. Over six-foot, over 200 pounds. If he keeps up his batted ball numbers, then I don’t see many reasons why he wouldn’t keep up good production. He was one of the minor league’s best breakout players and it wasn’t just luck he ran into. Fraizer looks like a talented hitter who could keep hitting his way into the major leagues. It also helps he can draw a walk, isn’t a strikeout machine, and doesn’t pull the ball like Joey Gallo.