Who’s Next? Max Clark “The Natural”

Max Clark. Photo courtesy of Clark via his Instagram, @maxxclarkk

At Prospects1500 we attempt to put our finger on the pulse of baseball. Rather than tell a reader what’s happening now, our goal is to provide a portal into the future. The hope is to share valuable information about “who’s next” with the fantasy sports or card collecting enthusiast. The 2021 MLB Draft unleashed a new wave of prospects. These hopefuls will attempt to announce their presence to legions of fans in minor league cities around the country. This player wasn’t part of the 2021 draft class. He’s not even in the class of 2022. However, Max Clark is a name that needs to be on every fan’s radar.

Clark just completed his high school sophomore year at Franklin Community High School in Indiana. However, the two-way, five-tool player has been tabbed a “phenom” for quite some time. When asked how he handles the pressure of labels Clark shares, “Honestly, at first I kind of let it get to my head.” He continued, “I appreciate what everyone says, but I still have plenty of work to do, not just to get to the next level, but just to prepare to play high school ball.” He said that he received a wake-up call during his freshman year when he played in the Jupiter Florida World Tourney and played against several of the top players from the 2021 draft class. Although he admits to having his “behind handed to him” by the older players, he found the learning experience to be invaluable and felt that he made steady progress throughout the tournament.

The Present

The tale of the tape reveals that the golden-maned 16-year-old stands at a very well built 6’1” 190 lbs. According to prepbaseballreport.com, some of the measurables generated by Clark include: As a pitcher, his left-handed arsenal includes a fastball that sits 89-91 and touches 93 mph. His curveball sits 70-74, slider 75-83 and changeup 77-81. As a centerfielder, his outfield throws clocked in as high as 92 mph. From the batter’s box, his exit velocity registered as high as 103 mph and he ran a 6.47 60-yard dash.

Statistics gathered from maxpreps.com include: In 29 varsity baseball games, the sophomore hit .450 with a .612 OBP.  In 80 at bats Clark fanned only 8 times while hitting 6 home runs and stealing 31 bases. On the mound, his ERA was a sparkling 0.84. In 50 innings pitched the southpaw surrendered 10 hits while striking out 120 batsmen. Opposing hitters were frustrated to the tune of a .061 AVG. Keep in mind, Clark is likely to get even better. His gaudy varsity numbers were generated as an underclassman!

Professional baseball scouts have frequently comped Clark with 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks first-round draft pick Corbin Carroll, others have suggested they see shades of the Kansas City Royals Andrew Benintendi. Nathan Rode, scouting director for Prep Baseball Report sees even more and suggests, “Corbin [Carroll] doesn’t really fit for me… Max is bigger and stronger. He has more power… Huge upside for sure.” Rode continued heaping superlatives and offered, “He’s the top position player in 2023 for me right now… I can see Max being number one easily. I’d take him in the first round this year.”

With the understanding that Clark may truly be a “unicorn” prospect, I asked the outfielder if he had ever considered a route similar to the one Bryce Harper took the big leagues. Harper famously earned his GED and left high school to attend junior college. This afforded him early draft eligibility while enhancing the level of competition he faced as a 17-year-old. Clark quickly burst my bubble and offered, “No, I come from an academic family, there is a chance that baseball doesn’t work out.”

The Future

With a verbal commitment to Vanderbilt, it seems that Clark may be a hard sell to accept a pro contract after high school. He shared, “I want to follow the college path, it’s been a dream of mine to play in the College World Series since I was eight-years-old. Nobody can offer me more than what Coach Corbin committed to me, I am 110% committed to Vanderbilt and that’s not going to change.”

In the prospect world, even the surest of sure things doesn’t always succeed. As far away as Clark is from the bright lights of the major leagues, he’s clearly on the right path. For every perceptible question, there is an answer. By playing in the Midwest rather than the South or the West some may speculate that he has faced inferior competition. Although, those that make this assumption would be wrong. How does he insure he is challenging himself against worthy competitors? By participating in the Area Code Games, the East Coast Pro Showcase, and the Jupiter World Wood Bat Championship he has tested his mettle against some of the best and brightest players in the country.

Indiana Bulls Coach Scott French shares that while playing as a 16-year-old in the collegiate Grand Park Summer League, Clark was frequently installed as his team’s three-hole hitter. The coach said, he once had a scout tell him, “This kid is going to be better than Don Mattingly.”

While discussing the transition from metal bats to wood which has been the doom of many celebrated amateur hitters, Clark states, “I have a lot of wood bat experience, I love it. I actually prefer it to metal because it forces me to get my best swing off every time. There is no getting lucky with wood bats.”

Since he is already so advanced, could boredom and complacency find their way into Clark’s constitution? All it takes is one look at the prospect’s social media posts to find video of him grinding at the gym, crushing workouts to enhance his functional strength. It’s truly scary to envision what a fully evolved Max Clark might become.

What about the mental aspect? Clark has received praise from coaches since he could swing a bat. Can he become spoiled by the accolades, a victim of his own success? Coach French shares, “I don’t think anything is going to get to his head, he’s a great teammate. His teammates like him on every team that I’ve coached him.” The coach also describes Clark as possessing a top 1% work ethic.

Although a feeling of entitlement is a distinct possibility with any prodigy, Clark displays humility and thanks God for his success. He is a devout Christian and cites October 24, 2018 as the day he was baptized. With a flowing blonde mullet and smudged eye black adorning his face, it would be easy to mistake him for a Juggalo. However, this is by design. The slugger shapes his eye black in the sign of the cross on both cheeks. This action allows Clark’s faith to accompany him onto the field. He credits Texas Rangers prospect Josh Jung as providing this inspiration.

The Natural

Max Clark said he grew up watching “The Natural” and has probably seen it “350 times since he was five years old.” Now as a two-way phenom he has a chance to act out the Robert Redford classic in real-time. Chicago White Sox 2021, first-round pick Colson Montgomery shared thoughts about his friend, telling Prospects1500, “The way he carried himself on the field he just had a different charisma that most kids don’t have.” Montgomery continued, “He is confident that he is the best player on the field but not arrogant. He expects success and is very hungry for it. He’s also a lot of fun to be around. He is very uplifting and wants to see his teammates succeed just as much as he wants his own success.”

In performing a case study about the key building blocks for a great ballplayer one can easily ascertain that natural talent, in conjunction with a strong work ethic and mental toughness, is vital. In addition to checking those boxes, Clark brings five extremely loud baseball tools to the forefront. Regardless of whether he chooses college or not, prospect hounds should look forward to tracking his progress for the next few years. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Dan Victor grew up in the fandom of the White Sox and Cubs in a place commonly referred to as “da region.” He has been extensively covering and tweeting about the White Sox farm system since 2016. He currently resides in North Carolina within an hour and a half circle of three White Sox minor league affiliates (Kannapolis Cannonballers, Charlotte Knights and Winston-Salem Dash). In addition to writing about Sox prospects, Victor and his wife help support the minor leagues by serving as a host family for Kannapolis farmhands. He has written features for Notes from the Sally, South Side Sox, South Side Hit Pen (Sports Illustrated’s White Sox site), Future Sox, Ranger Ball, and Buc’s Dugout. In the past year he has interviewed Andrew Vaughn, Futures Game MVP Sam Huff, and Pittsburgh Pirates minor league player of the year Mason Martin.

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