For all of the accolades that Max Clark accumulated throughout a storied high school career that featured three Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year honors, one national Gatorade Player of the Year honor and a gold medal with Team USA on the 18U squad, he needed to wait until his
For all of the accolades that Max Clark accumulated throughout a storied high school career that featured three Gatorade Indiana Player of the Year honors, one national Gatorade Player of the Year honor and a gold medal with Team USA on the 18U squad, he needed to wait until his third professional game to notch a first on his extensive baseball belt -- swatting a walk-off homer.
Clark, selected third overall by the Tigers in July, has opened his career in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. He stepped to the dish Tuesday (during a game that was previously suspended last Tuesday due to lightning) afternoon with the chance to deliver a walk-off knock with the score level at 2 apiece.
“So I was actually sitting on-deck thinking, ‘Oh man, I might actually have a chance to hit a walk-off here,’” Clark said. “The reason I was thinking that was because I’d never had a walk-off before in any of my baseball years.”
Sitting on a first-pitch slider, the left-handed-hitting Clark let the pitch go by for a ball. For all of the pomp around the five-tool skill set of the most heralded prep player to come from the Indiana high school ranks in two decades, it was another facet of his game that made the difference: preparation.
Citing the percentages that the next pitch he’d see would be a heater, the 18-year-old sold out for a center-center fastball -- and he got one.
“He found my barrel and we lost one over the fence,” Clark said. “It’s unbelievable, such a cool feeling.”
It didn’t come with the pageantry of a roaring crowd or a fireworks spectacular, but Clark’s first pro homer ignited a group of Tigers youngsters who went “insane” in celebration of the achievement in the club’s 5-2 win.
The term “five-tool talent” has been used to describe Clark, whom MLB Pipeline ranked as its No. 5 overall prospect heading into the 2023 Draft. Four of his tools -- hit, run, arm and field -- grade out as at least plus, providing a scintillating blend of talent coiled up in a promising prospect that the Detroit front office felt it couldn’t ignore.
“We think Max is an elite talent,” president of baseball operations Scott Harris said shortly after selecting Clark in July. “He was the best player on our board at that pick, and we are thrilled that he got to our pick.”
“He can impact the game on all sides of the ball,” amateur scouting director Mark Conner said last month, “offensively with the hit tool, emerging power, the range and speed that he plays with on defense and the arm that he has. He’s a very exciting player.”
For all the hype, Clark -- who is poised to slot high up on the Top 100 Prospects list when Pipeline's mid-season rankings emerge -- has had his first foray into the pro game sidetracked by a combination of the Florida heat and lightning. In addition to getting acclimated to playing in the triple-digit temps, pro pitching put Clark in a 2-for-10 spot to begin his time in the FCL. But after picking up a pair of knocks Monday in a game that is currently suspended, and delivering a double and the aforementioned homer in Tuesday’s resumption, the top-tier talent is beginning to break through.
“Getting it handed to you for the first two or three days, it was a new feeling,” Clark said. “It was nice getting acclimated to that so that I know going into next year that I’m going to be able to keep that equilibrium in balance and go out every single day and play my game.”
It’s been a whirlwind month for Clark, who was introduced to fans before the club’s game July 21 where he met members of the big league roster -- including Miguel Cabrera -- and threw out the first pitch. The road to Detroit is a long one, particularly for a high school player, but that has only motivated the preternaturally gifted outfielder more.
“This is truly only the beginning,” Clark said. “Obviously all the stuff that led up to this is a true blessing, but to have the ability to wake up every single day and play baseball for a job is an incredibly special thing. It’s something that I’ve dreamed of since I was 8 years old and to finally wake up in that moment and be doing it each and every day, it’s a true blessing.”
Jesse Borek is a reporter/coordinator of prospect content at MLB Pipeline and MiLB. Follow him on Twitter @JesseABorek.