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Diamond ‘dirtbag’

Kannapolis’ Tyler Frost isn’t afraid to get dirty when displaying his five tools

Grinder Ball redux: Frost is a “dirtbag” who leaves it all on the diamond.
Kim Contreras (@Cu_As)/South Side Sox

If you’ve been watching baseball for a long enough time, you’ve probably heard the term “dirtbag.”

Dirtbag is a complimentary term used to describe a player who does more with less. The dirtbag hustles on every play, stays mentally engaged, leaves it all out on the field, and when the game is over, walks off with a soiled uniform; the dirt symbolizing the battle scars of a valiant effort, win or lose.

In 2018, Kannapolis Intimidators right fielder Tyler Frost exhibited all of those traits. He did more with less, leading the Intimidators in home runs with 18 (which tied him for second with José Rondón in all of White Sox minor league play) in spite of his smallish 5´10´´, 170 pound frame. He always hustled, displayed high energy, and did whatever it took to help his team win. Frost is a throwback; he looks as if he walked out of the cornfield to join a pickup game in the movie “Field of Dreams”.

Frost has been a baseball overachiever for a very long time. Playing prep baseball at Greenway High School in Phoenix, Frost garnered national attention by winning Arizona’s Player of the Year award following a season in which he pitched his way to a 12-1 record with a microscopic 0.26 ERA, while hitting .406 with seven homers and 42 RBI. His most serious competition for the honor was from current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo, who was also a two-way player.

Frost’s Greenway High team finished 29-4, and won the Division II state championship. On the strength of his pitching, Frost earned a scholarship to Gonzaga, where he proved his bat also was more than capable of being a game-changer. In his junior year, Frost led the Zags in home runs (nine), RBIs (38) and runs (41). The Chicago White Sox selected Frost in the 15th round of the 2017 draft, and rewarded him with a $75,000 signing bonus before assigning him to the rookie league affiliate in Great Falls.

After having tremendous success in both high school and college, his stats were more ordinary in his professional debut (.261 average, .335 on-base, four homers, 26 RBIs in 32 games). “Going from college to the pros is definitely humbling,” Frost told South Side Sox. “Everyone at this level has the skill and the tools. What separates us as players is the mindset and consistency.”

Frost also recalled some words of advice he received from Aaron Rowand about riding the baseball roller-coaster: “One day you’re at the top with no worries, and the baseball looks as big as a beach ball, then all of a sudden you find yourself at the bottom, looking straight up thinking there’s no way to get back up there. The goal is to stay on an even keel and focus on one at-bat at a time.”

The 2018 season was a series of peaks and valleys for Frost. In April, his first month of full-season baseball, he hit .270 with four homers despite striking out in a whopping 30 of his 73 at-bats. His production cratered in May, when he hit .153 in spite of lowering his strikeout rate and improving his walk rate. From there, Frost’s stat line showed steady improvement on a monthly basis, as his batting average and on-base percentage increased each month, while his strikeout rate declined. Perhaps most encouraging was the fact that Frost finished the season on a strong note, hitting .280 with a .374 OBP and .854 OPS in August, a time when many rookies hit the wall as a result of fatigue from the long schedule.

Frost recalls: “I was definitely gassed at the end of the season. Figuring out my body was key, and now I know what I need to do [in 2019]. Staying in a routine is a key for me when taking care of my body.”

Frost is a picture of physical fitness, as his body fat could challenge Bruce Lee’s. Frost has taken his conditioning very seriously since he started cross-fit training as a high school sophomore. He maintains a focus on lower body and core strength, while ensuring he stays loose and flexible. The North Carolina heat, daily baseball grind, and long schedule coupled with the calorie-burning efficiency of his muscular body make it very difficult for Frost to maintain his weight during the season. Frost suggests he has to sustain a high-calorie intake and stay on a regimented eating schedule to keep weight on. He identifies similarly-framed Boston Red Sox outfielder, Mookie Betts, as an example of what his ideal body should look like.

In the batter’s box, Frost hits from the left side, with a neutral stance and a fairly quiet setup, with his hands and right elbow stationed approximately letter-high. An American League scout offers, “He has an uphill launch angle that helps him get to some power.”

So far, Frost’s in-game power has definitely been to the pull side, as 17 of his 18 home runs have been to right field. Frost said he has to be careful not to become “pull happy” following a home run.

“I definitely try to do too much on the next swing, staying within myself is what I need to do,” he says. “I need to trust that staying under control is when I have the most power in my swing.” How does that translate into a batter’s box mantra? “Do damage! I’m geared up for any pitch I can handle.”

A key sign of maturity in Frost is that he also recognizes the need to maintain discipline and make the pitcher come to him with something he can hit — even if it means waiting until the next at-bat.

In the outfield, Frost’s defense is complemented by his plus speed and throwing arm. He racked up 13 outfield assists with the help of his 60-grade gun. Kannapolis manager Justin Jirschele offers his praise, “Defensively, he can play all three outfield positions, along with the ability to run down balls in the gaps, [plus] he has an above-average arm out there.”

Frost said that he spent time at the 2018 instructs learning to play second base under the tutelage of Yolmer Sánchez and Omar Vizquel, and the added positional flexibility should only enhance his value.

“He’s the type of player you love to have on your team because of everything in his basket,” Jirschele says. “Offensively, he can drive balls out of the park to all fields, and when he gets on base he’s a threat at any time to steal bags.”

White Sox fans have a player to be excited about in Tyler Frost. He sports an impeccable baseball resume, off-the-charts makeup, plus power, defense, and throwing arm. The hit tool is the one area that is currently lagging, but after May, it trended positively for the rest of the season.

The AL scout quoted previously suggested that he sees Frost as a future major leaguer who could see time shuttling between AAA and the big-league roster. As I have seen Frost develop throughout the season and have often referred to him as “the little engine that could,” I won’t place a similar ceiling on him. Frost is the kind of player who has surprised people his entire baseball life; the minute someone tells him he can’t do something is the minute he proves them wrong.