Padres Prospect Interview: Matt Clark

Men in scoring position – San Diego Padres prospect Matt Clark is the guy many want at the plate, as he led the organization in RBI. He is continuing to make adjustments to become an even bigger threat.

Matt, what are the adjustments you've had to make specifically against left-handed pitching? That seems like one of the few areas that have been a little bit of a struggle for you.

Matt Clark: It's always hard bringing left on left. Most of the time, when you face a lefty, they usually bring out the bullpen stuff. That's their job to get you out. One for three out there is a good day. It really is. Just being able to stay on the fastball and work the other side of the field, stuff like that, really stay back on the breaking ball. I've made a couple good adjustments this spring already, so it feels good.

What kind of adjustments did you have to make?

Matt Clark: Just being able to pick the ball up a little earlier. A lot more on-deck stuff. I really watched them in warm-ups to see what they've got, to see what side of the plate they're working, stuff like that.

Last year, you were the guy who just didn't miss "that" pitch. Whatever that pitch was that you were looking for, you didn't miss. Talk a little bit about that and just how you've evolved, as far as being able to look for that pitch in your zone and smack it around.

Matt Clark: Yeah, that's just the thing. You have to look for that one pitch. You get that one pitch. You have to hunt it down, whatever pitch you're looking for. You may not get it at your first at-bat, you may get out, or do whatever. But, they're going to throw it eventually, because pitchers will make that mistake. Just being able to capitalize on their mistakes is my big thing. I've always done that throughout my whole career. A pitcher misses with on pitch and I miss it, if he throws it again, I'm not going to miss it again, that's for sure.

What's the work been like shortening that swing?

Matt Clark: It's always a long process. I've got long arms. Just being able to stay short to the ball. As long as you're short from point A to point B of contact, it doesn't matter how long you are out in front. That's one thing that Adrian (Gonzalez) talked about. I heard him saying that. Just how he really worked on point A to point B, being long out in front, being short through that area in the strike zone.

You had a period of time where you were leaning forward a little bit. How have you worked on correcting that?

Matt Clark: It's just part of evolving as a hitter, not being so anxious to get the ball all the time. Me and Torni (Tom Tornicasa) in Fort Wayne really harped on that. I finally started to pick it up as the season progressed. Once I got to All-Star game, I just kind of stayed right there and maintained it the rest of the season. I've felt the same way since I got here.

Did you feel like you were trying to be too aggressive, getting a little jumpy?

Matt Clark: Yeah, trying to do too much with the ball. You don't have to do a whole lot. Usually the home runs I hit are just a nice, short, easy swing. My dad's told me that since I was young. ‘You're big and strong. You don't need to swing hard. Just make contact. The ball will go out of the ballpark.'

We always hear staying on top of the ball. It's kind of a catch phrase everywhere, that creates some backspin. Doesn't it seem like it's almost backwards in a sense, especially with an aluminum bat swing? Coming in, you're like, ‘I just want to get under that ball, because it's going to take off.'

Matt Clark: Exactly. If you could develop that swing when you are young, then a metal bat makes it that much easier. When you put a metal bat in your hand, you don't have to make that adjustment, to really focus on getting on top.

Talk a little bit about average and power. Is there such a balance that you have to go, ‘Okay, I'm going to think single, and the rest will just come?'

Matt Clark: I've never really though ‘hit a single.' I've always told myself, ‘I'm going to hit this ball as hard as I can no matter where it's pitched.' Whatever happens, happens. If it's a single, a home run, it doesn't really matter. Being able to stay with my swing, and just try to hit the ball hard. Whatever happens, happens.

You're a guy who stands close to the plate. Are you asking people to come inside?

Matt Clark: Yeah, for the most part. I've backed off a little bit, just because the farther you go, the little more control they have. They'll get that pitch in there every now and then. That's the pitch I'm looking for. What I did last year that I thought I did really well was establish the opposite gap. I hit doubles there, and they just have to come where I want it. Being able to establish that early in the season was a big thing for me.

How has the pitch selection evolved over the last couple of years since you've been in the system?

Matt Clark: When I was in college, it was breaking ball, breaking ball, breaking ball. Now, you get that one or two pitches in the at-bat. You either have to jump on it or wait for a different one. Just being able to see the ball up in the zone, especially against lefties who will put the slider down and away. I don't hit the ball down as well as people think I do. I really like the ball up more than anything. Just being able to get the pitch in the zone that you want it really helps out.

Talk a little bit about the organizational philosophy. It's kind of changing this year. We're a little bit aggressive this year, more than in the past. Does that work to your advantage?

Matt Clark: I've always been aggressive. If there's a fastball thrown right down the middle first pitch, you better bet your behind I'm swinging, because that's my game. I'm aggressive.

I actually have to take myself back a little bit to be more patient. It's a sacrifice here and there. If you're going to be aggressive, you're going to strike out a little bit more. Your average will go down, but your power will go up. You kind of have to give and take here. If I wanted to shorten up, I could hit .300. That's not a big deal for me. I'd just rather stroke the power numbers, do stuff like that to drive guys in. That's what I do.

Talk a little bit about the foot work and the defensive techniques that you've been improving on over the last year.

Matt Clark: I've been working really hard on defense. I really did well at picking balls last year. I've done a lot of foot quickness this off season. I feel great at first base right now.

What kind of drills do you have to do to get that extra little quickness?

Matt Clark: It's just always working the agilities in the off season with my trainer, coming here and really working on the foot work off the bag. If you can get a good base and foundation of what you're supposed to do every time, then that helps out. I've only been playing first base for, well, this would be my third year. I played third base my whole life. I'm just finally starting to get used to the position. It takes a well. First base is more complicated than people give it credited for. There's a lot more going on. You could ask Adrian. It's not the easiest, but people tend to think it's that.

We all know you have a lot of great teammates and this does not take away from anyone you don't mention. If you could have one hitter hitting behind you in the lineup all season to offer protection, who would it be and why?

Matt Clark: I think it would have to be James Darnell this season. He has the big reputation. He was the guy that was hard for everybody. He was our Minor League Player of the Year. If he's hitting behind me, then that's good. They'll throw to me. They may not throw to me, but if you have him behind me, that works to my advantage.

Who is the one pitcher you are glad you have as a teammate and why?

Matt Clark: Probably Wynn Pelzer because he's nasty. That ball that he runs in, sinkers at 95 mph. You don't want nothing to do with that.

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