Name: Matt Clark
DOB: December 10, 1986
A 12th-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, Clark tied for the national lead in home runs while playing at LSU. He hit 28 dingers across 64 games, adding 17 doubles and 64 RBI.
The detractors said he had trouble hitting left-handed pitching. It would be a touch of redemption that he hit better off southpaws than righties in his professional debut – albeit a limited sample. LSU simply didn't put him in against southpaws so it is unknown whether there is truth to the lefty-lefty trouble.
Clark was assigned to short-season Eugene and went on to hit .279 across 38 games. He had 13 extra base hits, including five homers, while driving in 32 from the cleanup spot.
"What he needs to do is, and he was working with me and (manager Greg) Riddoch, is just learning to continue on his separation," Eugene hitting coach Eric Peyton said. "Get a good separation going – a little better pre-load, he has a little dip in his swing – because of that he brings his hands with him, but he was so strong he was able to out-muscle that ball to left-center field.
"Pro-ball they pitch a little better with that off-speed they can get inside a little bit more. So once again, he realized that he needed to make an adjustment, he was getting mad at himself, which to me is good because it shows that he cares about the fact that he couldn't get into a consistent pre-load but every once in a while when he did he saw that he would become a better hitter and hit the ball out to right center."
Clark also showed a good feel for the strike zone, especially for a big man. He drew 23 walks compared to 38 strikeouts but still needs to refine his approach.
The one thing the coaches tried to get through to him was it was much better to draw a walk than to swing at a pitch outside the zone. He did a decent job of adhering to that standard.
Clark's swing is a bit long and that provides margin for error. He starts his swing earlier than others and can commit to a pitcher's pitch because of the time it takes to spring through the hitting zone.
"He profiles well at (first base)," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He has huge raw power, but has a lot of work to do with his approach and defense. We all know that the power won't play itself out if he doesn't refine his pitch selection at the plate."
There are times when he flails at pitches outside of the zone and other times when he is zoned in and doesn't get caught flat-footed diving out over the plate. Given that, Clark has shown he is teachable.
The California native is working on his hand separation but has a relaxed feel, exploding forward with his hands and hips to drive through the ball. That gives him tremendous power potential.
Clark is a pure fastball hitter. He looks red and there are few heaters that can regularly get by him. He is, however, still adjusting to the more steady diet of breaking balls and the move to the wooden bat.
"I feel he has a mind to want to make that adjustment once he keeps working at it," Peyton said. "Plus, it's important he see other players. When they're around a lot of first-year players a lot of these guys are all pulling off, over swinging, like even James Darnell, once they start seeing other players and the way they approach their swings to the ball, they'll start seeing it more."
Interestingly enough, the lefty hitting first baseman gets himself back on track by doing work in front of a mirror. He has a good eye for mechanical flaws in his swing and can iron them out quicker when working with a mirror rather than trying to make the adjustments off a tee or during batting practice.
Power is his trademark, but it should be noted that Clark could add additional weight to his frame with ease.
He came into the system needing defensive help at first base. His lateral movement is lacking and Clark struggled with picking balls out of the dirt. He worked a lot on that part of his game while in Eugene and showed progress in all areas.
"His defense at digging balls out of the dirt (needed work)," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "We did a lot of that stuff every day. For 15 minutes I'd take the first baseman and just fire balls and try to throw curveballs so they'd hit and tear him at different directions so that they'd learn to pick balls in the dirt, which he got way better on immediately. Still has a ways to go with his defense as far as his foot quickness because he's a big, Clydesdale-looking guy over there at first base with some pop in his bat."
He is still slow off the bag and his balance and footwork need assistance but the progress he showed shows that it wasn't stressed in college and will become better with continued work in the pros.
One of the positives defensively is his ability to catch balls that are destined for the stands. He is a big target for his infielders and because he stands tall, he has a better shot at catching balls sailing over his head.
"He came to work," Peyton said. "Even on his defense, he's never worked on foot position at first base so he came out the last part of the season, last two, three weeks with Riddoch at 2:30 and proved his defense that same night."
Clark comes from good bloodlines, as his father Terry is a Double-A pitching coach and pitched in the majors across six seasons.
Conclusion: Shortening up Clark's swing is the first hurdle he has to overcome, as he can no longer muscle a ball out of the park as he could with aluminum. A solid work ethic should allow him to make some of those transitions.
Also on the list is pitch selection. He can get into bad habits by swinging outside of the zone. If he can narrow his strike zone down even further, Clark will get better pitches to hit and crush even more balls. His defense has taken a step forward and needs to continue that trend.
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