A warm welcome greeted Todd Frazier on a chilly evening in his new home.
“Welcome to Chicago, man. Happy to have you.”
That line came from a fan during Frazier’s autograph session Friday night at SoxFest at the Hilton Chicago, but easily could’ve come from any of the teammates he met during the annual confab.
The White Sox third baseman, acquired as the team’s offseason centerpiece from the Cincinnati Reds in December, is a prime reason for optimism even as the SoxFest tenor trended toward ornery this weekend. He’s a two-time All-Star who hit 35 home runs in 2015, but just as importantly, he brings a steady defensive presence to a team that finished with baseball's worst UZR last summer.
“You can’t not be excited, no doubt,” ace left-hander Chris Sale said. “You got a guy who’s one of the best in the business at what he does both offensively and defensively. That’s something I think we’ve needed for a while.”
Frazier’s introduction to his fanbase and teammates was well-received, with center fielder Adam Eaton joking during a panel on Saturday that the third baseman and Toms River, N.J. native is “extremely east coast, I feel like I’m talking to someone from the mafia.” By all accounts, Frazier comes to Chicago with a reputation as a positive clubhouse presence, something the 2015 White Sox probably lacked to an extent.
Though with pitchers and catchers reporting to Camelback Ranch in a few weeks, Frazier said he doesn’t feel any building pressure to succeed and fit in with his new team.
“You come up in the minor leagues, you've been doing it your whole life, trying to move up to each level,” Frazier explained. “That's how I'm taking it. I'm moving up another level. A new chapter in my life with a new team. You've got to make new friends and get acquainted with everybody.
“I’m pretty excited just talking about it. It's so laid back and a comfortable atmosphere that I can just be myself and that's where I play my best.”
Frazier’s already made a strong first impression on White Sox fans, teammates and coaches this weekend, but what matters is how he hits and fields come April. He thinks any concerns about him making the switch to the American League from the National League are overblown, though said he’ll talk to designated hitter Adam LaRoche about handling the switch (LaRoche, of course, struggled mightily in 2015 after switching leagues — and positions).
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If the White Sox are to improve off last season’s disappointing 76 wins, Frazier will be an important part of it. For now, his tenure with the White Sox is off to a positive start.
“(I’m) just seeing what these guys are all about, just talking, having a couple root beers and away we went,” Frazier said. “I talked to Alex Avila a little bit, I know Dioner Navarro a lot and Chris Sale, all really, really good guys and can’t wait to get in that clubhouse and see who the jokesters are and who’s ready to play.”