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.
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. 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.
He began the 2009 season with the TinCaps in Fort Wayne. In 64 games, the first baseman hit .266 with 22 doubles, 11 homers and 55 RBI. Clark did strikeout 72 times while drawing 33 walks for a .352 on-base percentage.
"His father played at the Major League level, so I don't think the professional ball awed him at all," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "Pretty much like most guys whose father's play at the professional level. So he's kind of had a head start in that department."
"At the time, he was leading the Midwest League in RBI," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "He had a nice time here."
Moved up to Lake Elsinore at the All-Star break, Clark batted .292 across 67 games with the Storm. He added 13 doubles, three triples and 13 homers to go along with 46 RBI and 44 runs scored. Combined, Clark launched 62 extra-base hits and scored 85 runs while drawing 61 walks and fanning 134 times.
His 101 RBI across two leagues placed him 11th in the entire minor leagues in that category. He also paced the organization with 24 homers. He did, however, have 110 at-bats with runners in scoring position while with Fort Wayne and managed to hit just .218 in those situations. He hit .324 with runners in scoring position while playing for the Storm.
Clark was third in the league amongst those with 250 plate appearances with a .218 ISO and 14th in the same category in the California League with a .236 ISO.
Coming out of college, 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. Clark, however, proved the detractors right when he hit .209 off southpaws in 67 at-bats during his time with Fort Wayne and just .194 in 62 at-bats while with Lake Elsinore. Just four of his 46 RBI with the Storm came off left-handed pitchers.
The left-handed hitter is a plus power threat each time he steps in the box. Strikeouts will always be an issue for the behemoth, but as long as the mammoth power is there, the strikeouts will be an acceptable offspring.
"He's got a good swing," Dascenzo said. "His pitch selection, just like a lot of these guys this year, was very good, and it is just going to continue to get better. His swing is very good, and he's a big strong kid so there's power in there as well.
"He's someone that drives a lot of RBI and really has a good game plan. He knows what he wants to do and when he gets the pitch he wants to hit he doesn't miss it. You have those guys here and there and he's definitely one of them. He's an RBI hitter and actually did pretty good at first base too. We are looking for good things from him in the future."
The California native still holds his hands relatively high during his separation and load. His long swing is a constant battle given his tall frame and long arms. He also does not get his foot down ahead of the ball, which cuts down on his ability to allow balls to travel deep. When his pre-load is working, Clark can drive the ball to all fields with authority.
His hands will drop as the pitch is delivered and has a pronounced uppercut that cuts down on the bat head's time in the zone.
"His approach can get a little out in front and a little bit quick," Tornicasa said. "That is one thing we tried to keep in check. Like you said, he is such a big guy that if he starts to leak forward with his hips, the bat is going to drag and he is not going to get to the ball. That was the first step.
"Also, we tried to get him to take a more direct path to the ball. He does have long arms and when he gets out of whack, he starts dropping his hands and getting underneath everything. Taking a more direct path worked out for him."
Clark is a fastball hitter that struggles with the off-speed pitch. He can also be beat inside, as it is tough for him to get extension on pitches that traverse the inner half. His strength, however, allows him to muscle pitches. If he takes an inside-out swing, Clark can produce opposite field power. There are very few fastballs that he can't catch up with. When he does hit the ball, he rarely makes weak contact.
"Clark is 6-foot-7, he might be 6-foot-6, but he's a tall guy and doesn't have a lot of length to his stride," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "He's a shorter athlete when he makes his move to the baseball."
"He's big, physical, and has some power," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He's working more on improving his swing so that it will help his overall average, mainly by letting the game come to him instead of trying to force things. When he got his pitches this year, he showed an ability to crush them."
Pitch selection remains an issue for the slugger. Because he isn't fluid in his mechanics, he must choose whether to swing or not earlier than necessary. That means, at times, he is swinging at pitcher's pitches.
Believing he is a run-producer can sometimes hinder his approach. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform and be the guy driving in runs.
A visual performer, Clark is better suited to video and mirror work than on-the-field adjustments. Seeing is believing. That makes teaching him a tact best used through the use of video.
"As he goes up, he likes to hit a little close to the plate, and they're going to pound him inside," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He's another guy with a lot of RBI, with home run power. The bat is going to carry him. It just depends on how well he makes adjustments."
Clark is more of a fall-down defender that lacks lateral range. He can get to balls that are hit directly towards him and has been able to save runs with improved defensive ability at picking balls out of the dirt. He must improve his overall defense and balance, as he is often standing too tall to make a move to his left or right.
"Defensively, I don't think he's ever going to be a star, but I do think he can do the job there," Fuson said. "He's been working on improving his footwork and technique."
The LSU alumnus is a station-to-station runner that will never be a stolen base threat. He also needs a surefire double to score from first and lacks the speed to go from first to third on a single.
Conclusion: Clark has the power to stay at first base but needs to refine his pitch selection and become more consistent against left-handed pitchers. He will never be a stalwart defender but needs to make more consistent contact to continue making strides up the ladder. Given his background and pedigree, Clark will work hard to make the necessary adjustments.
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