Tigers draft stock watch: Indiana prep star Max Clark has star quality

Detroit News
By Lynn Henning |  Special to The Detroit News

We gather together today to ponder the imponderable.

Max Clark’s numbers. His athleticism. His citizenship. And, more feasibly, his possible top-five status heading into July’s annual MLB Draft, which has the Tigers with a third pick.

Here we go (seat belts recommended):

Five games, 14 at-bats, 12 hits, five doubles, one homer, a .778 batting average, and a 2.056 OPS.

He is a senior at Franklin Community High School, 25 minutes south of Indianapolis. He stands 6-foot-1, weighs 185-190 pounds, bats left-handed, and runs like an Olympic-trials sprinter.

Oh, yes: His arm.

Clark throws in the upper 90-mph stratosphere as a pitcher, even though Franklin coach Ryan Feyerabend decided, with a wince, that Clark this season would not be pitching. No, there would be no wear-and-tear invited on an arm so blessed when owned by a center fielder whose throws would be best utilized as part of an overall, spectacular, position-player package.

No wonder Baseball America earlier this year decreed that Clark was the No. 1 prep player in the nation.

Is he good enough to unseat Walker Jenkins, a somewhat similar, left-handed-hitting package of prep supremacy from South Brunswick High, in Southport, N.C.?

Maybe. Maybe not. But, it’s likely to be a match-race worth following straight into July 9, when MLB’s first round will be unveiled.

It’s no surprise, says Feyerabend, that there were “30 or 40 scouts” at Franklin for a scrimmage game, even before Franklin’s regular season began last week.

“We’re in the top class in the state of Indiana, although we’re toward the bottom of school enrollment,” Feyerabend said during a Monday phone conversation. “So, we’re playing games against schools with 1,500 or 2,000 more students than us. Plus, our non-conference schedule is as tough as we can get it, so the arms he’s facing are the best we can schedule.

“We’re not going to see a 90-mph guy every single conference game, but we saw a kid Saturday (Greenwood High) who was 93-95, and that first or second pitch, Max nearly killed the pitcher (line-drive through the box).

“He puts the bat on the ball. He’s a hard out. And he just really doesn’t strike out.”

Baseball America noted the same in its 2023 scouting report on Clark:

“He has good strike-zone discipline and hand-eye coordination with the ability to adjust his swing based on the situation and where the ball is pitched, so he seldom swings and misses,” said BA’s report, which called Clark “one of the best pure hitters” from the 2023 crop.

“Over a 765-pitch sample with Synergy from 2020-2022, Clark missed at just a 13% rate. He has a line-drive, hit-first approach …”

So, a pretty good, top-of-the-order, MLB nominee here, accented by his cheetah act on the basepaths and by an arm that keeps him, barely, from being unleashed as Franklin’s rotation ace.

“We haven’t put him on a 60,” Feyerabend said, speaking of 60-yard times, “but, if he hits even a decent ball to short, he’s safe. When they decide to walk him, he’s going to take two bases (a steal of second) most of the time. He’s probably going to be at third, especially if he gets a breaking ball (to the hitter).”

The arm? Again, Feyerabend says he has never seen anything like it.

“His first year in high school, as a sophomore, he was the best pitcher in 4-A (Franklin’s class) in the state of Indiana,” Feyerabend said. “He was averaging over two strikeouts an inning. I don’t know that I’ve seen 100, but I’m sure he sits 97, 98 throughout a game.”

Still, the big picture — always, it has been the focus for Clark and his coaches.

He began his time at Franklin as a quarterback, a good one, and had the same prowess in basketball before it became apparent to all that Clark’s overall skills were too celestial. He had to choose baseball.

Vanderbilt already has his commitment for autumn 2023, although everyone agrees that isn’t happening. Assuming no injury or unforeseen catastrophe, he is headed for millions as an MLB prospect, and very possibly as a third, fourth, or fifth pick in the first round.

Scouts, to date, have had only one question: Will he hit for the power MLB teams tend to insist upon with a top-10 pick?

Feyerabend says there is no issue — not when you’ve seen the balls Clark has sent rocketing toward Indiana’s heavens.

“We have to order new baseballs once a week,” Feyerabend said, explaining that a pole-barn area and cinders-track layout beyond the outfield fences lead to all kinds of dents and dings and scuffs, courtesy of Clark’s bombs.

“Last week, he hit one, a no-doubter, straight into a 25-mph wind. It cleared the fence by 50 or 60 feet, and we have a big ballpark.

“Before the game, I was having trouble getting (fungo fly balls) to the outfield.”

Helping matters is that Clark gets an A-plus on courtesy, coachability, camaraderie — all the Eagle Scout stuff — to go with his 4.0 grade-point average.

Humble guy, Feyerabend said, which his coach says is why his teammates are so behind him.

Even with his celebrity.

Last week, following a Thursday game at Plainfield High, Clark was greeted by his fans. From everywhere.

“He had to sign autographs,” Feyerabend. “I finally had to shut him down — it was getting late.

“But, you don’t know until you get outside our city that there’s a lot of people there to see him play.”

The crowd, of course, will continue to include MLB scouts — plenty of them — some of whom are bound to hail from a team based in Detroit.

Max Clark, it seems, is that good.

Detroit News ranking of the top 10 amateur baseball talents as they currently sit leading into the 2023 MLB Draft, set for July 9-11.

1. Dylan Crews, Louisiana State University, outfielder, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, right-handed batter: Last week was a funky seven days across college baseball: weather, Easter weekend, shortened series or canceled games. Dylan Crews followed suit. He was human: 1-for-6 in two games at South Carolina. He even struck out twice. Still, he’s The Man To Beat. Last week’s ranking: 1.

2. Paul Skenes, RH starter, LSU, 6-6, 240:  Weather shortened his Thursday start to three innings. Of course, those three innings were, well, Skenes-like: two hits, no walks, eight strikeouts. Last week’s ranking: 2

▶3. Wyatt Langford, OF, University of Florida, 6-1, .225, RH batter: Ah, we have a pattern brewing from the past seven days: Guys playing like mortals. In a weekend series at Tennessee, Langford was 2-for-10, with four walks and four punch-outs. Last week’s ranking: 3

4. Walker Jenkins, CF, 6-3, 205, South Brunswick High, Southport, N.C, LH batter: Jenkins could be inducing the Tigers to think he’s the better bet over Langford – if already he hasn’t. The left-hand bat, hitting acuity, and power, are beyond imposing. Last week’s ranking: 4

5. Max Clark, OF, Franklin (Indiana) Community High School, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Now that Franklin’s season has — finally — begun, scouts are watching Clark tee off against game pitching, and marveling at his overall skill kit. Last week’s ranking: 8

6. Jacob Wilson, shortstop, Grand Canyon University, 6-3, 190, RH batter: Wilson got hit in the hand by a pitch and doesn’t figure to resume dazzling scouts until this weekend. No issues — except wondering if he’s going to hit the ball with enough fury, against good pitching, once he graduates from Western Athletic Conference competition. Last week’s ranking: 5 

7. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, University of Mississippi, 6-2, 200, LH batter: Holding serve as a top-10 guy. Solid weekend against Arkansas: 4-for-10, including a double and a homer. Last week’s ranking: 6

8. Rhett Lowder, RH starter, Wake Forest, 6-2, 200: Not-so-sharp outing Sunday against North Carolina State: four innings, seven hits, three walks, four strikeouts, and 99 pitches. He’s not overpowering, so days like this don’t help. Last week’s ranking: 7

9. Kyle Teel, C, University of Virginia, 6-1, 190, LH batter: Unless scouts decide this isn’t a big-league catcher, defensively, it’s hard to imagine Teel not going at least this early in July’s sweepstakes. His weekend work in a series against Miami: 6-for-12, double, two walks

10. Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech, 6-foot, 185, LH hitter: He’s marginal, for sure, when top-10 dudes are considered. But best to discount the past, crazy week that saw so many cancellations, which confined Hurley to a Sunday doubleheader against Duke, where he was 2-for-9. Last week’s ranking: 10

Knocking at the door

 Hurston Waldrep, RH starter, University of Florida, 6-1, 205: Ah, that’s more like it — Friday at Tennessee, Waldrep put together a seven-inning dandy: five hits, two walks, nine strikeouts, and a manageable 102 pitches. He could be back in top-10 territory very quickly.

Chase Dollander, RH starter, University of Tennessee, 6-2, 210: Still not happening, and you wonder if Dollander might be headed back to Tennessee for a senior season. Against the Gators, he threw 93 pitches in four innings of four-hit, three-run labor. He struck out seven but walked three.

Brayden Taylor, 3B, Texas Christian, 6-1, 180, LH batter: Still not showing the steady at-bats that translate into early first-round stock. His weekend against Oklahoma State was undistinguished: 3-for-12, which included a double.

Colin Houck, SS, Parkview High, Lilburn, Georgia, 6-2, 193, RH batter: Numbers keep soaring, and the scouts keep noticing. Houck has played 20 games and is batting .508, with six homers and a 1.601 OPS. Could make some top-10 inroads the way he’s going.

Matt Shaw, IF, University of Maryland, 5-11, 182, RH batter: Maybe, maybe not a first-rounder. He had a so-so weekend against Rutgers: 3-for-13, with a home run and four strikeouts.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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