GOODYEAR, Ariz. - With one impressive season, Todd Frazier has gone from last player cut in spring training to first in line to take over as the Cincinnati Reds' starting third baseman.
Frazier, of Toms River, N.J., led the Reds in spring training last year with five homers and 15 RBIs but was the last player sent to the minors at the end of camp. Injuries to the bullpen prompted the Reds to add a reliever, and Frazier was the one to go.
When backup infielder Miguel Cairo was injured in April, Frazier was called up and had a sensational rookie season. He finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting after batting .273 with 19 homers and 67 RBIs, the second-highest total for a rookie.
Third baseman Scott Rolen turned down the Reds' offer to attend spring training and fill a backup role this year. Frazier is now the starter.
"Frazier is in a totally different situation than he was last year at this time," manager Dusty Baker said. "We hoped that he would be in this situation. He's paid his dues. He's earned his way, which is what you like a young man to do.
"In the world of giveaways, we give them a lot, but he's earned it."
The 27-year-old infielder spent the offseason getting better at third base. He played shortstop at Rutgers, so third base is still something of a new position.
He started 73 games at third base while Rolen recovered from injuries last season, and 39 games at first base after Joey Votto tore knee cartilage. He also started seven games in the outfield. Frazier's biggest challenge at third is to get quicker with his initial move toward the ball.
"I told him to go home and work on his lateral range and first step, and he did it," Baker said. "I suggested that he go home and take ballet. I don't know if he went that far, but I can see improvement."
Frazier didn't take ballet, but he worked with Ed Hefernan, a track coach near his home in New Jersey.
"It took me a couple weeks, but we finally figured out the right drills, to change from the 'la-di-da' move to 'boom!' " Frazier said. "I'd hop over these little links - left, right, left, right - then I'd run after a ball he rolled. He timed it and once we got a time he liked, we'd do it over and over."
He did other drills as well to improve his first step. One drill involved tying a string to his feet.
"I complained to him a couple times," Frazier said. "I told him, 'You're making all this stuff up.' He is old-school and would tell me to quit my whining. He put the pressure on me which I needed."
Baker also advised him to work on being more patient at the plate.
Frazier was batting .298 on Aug. 24, but batted only .186 the rest of the season with one homer as pitchers started approaching him differently and Frazier became impatient.
"He's got to slow down at the plate," Baker said. "At the plate slow down and in the field speed up."
The Reds were interested in bringing Rolen back as a part-time player in part because of his leadership.
Although Frazier has played only one season in the majors, his teammates think he has the type of personality that could help him become a leader now that he's got a full-time job.
"Todd Frazier is a guy who leads with his voice and how he plays," reliever Sean Marshall said. "He has big shoes to fill."