In early November, Denver Post laureate and astute baseball mind, Woody Paige, discussed the Rockies’ need for a right-handed insurance policy at first base next season. Here are Woodrow’s thoughts:
“But what about the right-handed first baseman to alternate with Helton?
The Rox already possess him: Jared Clark. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Clark hit .299 (.345 after the all-star break) with 24 home runs, and walked 76 times, in 110 games with Asheville last season. He’s not an inexperienced kid. Clark, 24, played big-time college baseball at Cal-State Fullerton, was drafted by the Rockies and hit .348 at Casper in the 2009 short season. He’s impressive, and should be given a chance in the spring to make the jump.”
Paige, a star on that ESPN show where five sportswriters scream at each other every day for thirty minutes, is right to be excited about Jared Clark. However, it’s well known that Woody tends to get a little too worked up. He is a bit ahead of himself on this one. Despite Clark’s immense potential, there is little chance of him making the leap from Low-level A ball and contributing in the Majors next season.
In 2009 when the Rockies took Clark in the 12th round, it marked the fourth time he had been drafted. He was originally selected out of high school by the Houston Astros in the 17th round of the 2004 draft. At California’s Valencia High, Jared was a dominating player. He hit over .400 in his junior and senior seasons, setting a league record for career homeruns in the process. As a pitcher, Clark had a fastball in the high 80s, a decent slider, and good command. He threw two no-hitters as a junior and had a 1.05 ERA with six complete games as a senior. The Astros drafted Clark as a pitcher, but Jared was already committed to play at Cal-State Fullerton, where he was recruited as a pitcher and a position player. Jared made the right decision and went to college.
During his freshman year, Clark saw limited action on the mound and in the field. As a sophomore, he began the season in Fullerton’s starting rotation. However, his performance at the plate out shadowed his performance on the mound and he flamed out as a pitcher that year. He only made four appearances on the mound for the Titans, but became the team’s everyday right fielder early in the season. It was a breakthrough year, highlighted by Clark’s three-run College World Series homerun off the National Player of the Year, Andrew Miller.
Unfortunately, that fall Jared tore up his knee playing pick-up football and subsequently missed the entire 2007 season. Still, the Cleveland Indians saw enough promise in Clark to draft him in the 21st round of the 2007 draft. This was the second time Jared chose Fullerton over professional baseball.
Upon his return from knee surgery, the Titans moved Clark to first and he flourished. He hit .294/.410/.533 in 2008, leading the conference in doubles and tying for the team lead in homeruns. After that season, he was once again drafted; this time by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California in the 45th round. Inexplicably, his draft stock had slipped considerably since 2007. For whatever reason, the scouts rated him higher when he was a .277 hitter with a blown out knee. For a third time, Clark turned down a chance to play professional baseball.
In between his junior and senior seasons at Fullerton, Clark caught a break. During the 2008 FISU World Championship, the U.S. National Baseball team lost its first baseman to injury and called upon Clark as a replacement. He made the most of the opportunity. Despite only playing in 13 out of 24 games, Clark was the team leader in homeruns and slugging percentage. He played first base so well that he was selected for the team’s Gold Glove award. An undefeated Team USA won gold and Jared benefitted from the exposure.
As a fifth-year senior at Fullerton, Jared emerged as one of the best players in college baseball. Impressively, he hit .363/.459/.590, while leading the Titans to a 2009 CWS appearance, and was a Big West conference All-Star. The Rockies drafted him in the 12th round that year, and unable to return to Fullerton for a sixth season, Clark finally made the jump to professional ball.
Jared has played one and a half seasons in the Rockies’ minor league system. In 2009, he played 58 games for Casper, hitting .348/.424/.591. He had 11 homeruns and 13 doubles in only 198 at-bats. He spent the entire 2010 season in Low A Asheville. It was a terrific year. He hit .299/.412/.541. His OPS was the second highest in the South Atlantic League, and he led the SALLY with twenty-four homeruns. He is now the Rockies’ most promising power-hitting prospect.
Jared is a big, strong guy and a natural athlete. He projects as a plus defensive first baseman with solid range and a strong arm. At the plate, Jared’s power is organic. He doesn’t over swing and is very patient. He has an incredibly good eye, doesn’t swing at bad pitches, and walks often. Last year, he received 76 free passes in only 381 at-bats. However, Clark is prone to strike-outs. He K’d 113 times last year, many times looking. As a result, Jared is often criticized for being too patient; many are concerned about his high strike out rate.
The other knock on Clark is his age. At twenty-four, he was one of the oldest players in the South Atlantic League last season. He isn’t given credit for his maturity; at his age he is expected to be mature. He needs to duplicate his 2010 performance at a higher level against players that are closer to his age. For now, the organization’s excitement about Clark is somewhat tempered.
The Rockies have a slew of minor league first basemen. Brad Eldred and Mike Paulk split time last year in Colorado Springs, and despite underwhelming seasons, both have shown potential in the past. Mike Zuanich and Ben Paulsen performed well in High A Modesto last year and are highly touted. Neither player has shown the same kind of power as Clark.
The organization needs to make the advancement of Clark, Paulsen and Zuanich a priority. It would be terrific if one of these promising players eventually replaced Helton. Hopefully, the Rox will let the three first basemen compete in Spring Training for the starting job at Double-A Tulsa. Clark, the more experienced and polished player, should have a leg up in that battle.
As for Woody’s bold stance, well, that’s just Woody being Woody. Jumping from level A to the Bigs wouldn’t be unprecedented though. In 2001, after spending all of 2000 in A Ball, Albert Pujols was promoted to the Majors out of Spring Training and had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever (.329/.403/.610 37 HRs 130 RBIs). Clark probably isn’t the next Pujols, but a fella can dream can’t he?