The Padres, Matt Clark, and Where Does He Fit?


On Monday, I highlighted the recent Spring Training exploits of 1B/LF prospect Jaff Decker, and discussed what his future contributions to the big club could be in the coming years.  And while Decker’s performance has been impressive, the Padres have another 1B/LF prospect that is tearing the cover off of the ball in addition to turning some solid play in the Cactus League as well: Matt Clark.

Similar to Decker, Clark is not considered one of the Padres “headline” or heralded prospects like a Casey Kelly, Robb Erlin, Joe Wieland, or Rymer Liriano.  Nevertheless, I felt that today would be a perfect opportunity to give some kudos to Clark, delve into his Professional Baseball career so far, and finally discuss how he fits/might not fit into the Padres’ future plans.

Clark’s Nice Spring

If you thought Jaff Decker’s Spring numbers were good, Matt Clark has been just as effective with his chances to shine in Phoenix.  In 15 At-Bats, Clark has logged 7 Hits, Scored 3 Runs, and is tied for the team lead with Decker in Home Runs and RBI’s (2 HR’s and 6 RBI’s).  In addition to his run creating/scoring ability, Clark is hitting .467, has an OBP of .467, and is Slugging .867 in 9 Spring Training Games.  With three weeks left to play before Opening Day, Clark will be making the most of every opportunity he is given.  But expecting efficient and effective play from Clark is a given, he has simply hit at every level in San Diego’s Minor League system.

Clark’s Minor League Career

As I stated before, Matt Clark is not one of the “Young Guns” which can grab headlines and make Friars fans dream of a dominant Pitching Staff like Kelly, Erlin, or Wieland.  And Clark certainly doesn’t possess the ridiculously awesome potential of a position player like Rymer Liriano or Edinson Rincon.  Nevertheless, Clark has one important thing in common with his fellow prospect Jaff Decker which makes him a prospect to keep an eye on in the next couple of years: he can hit, he has hit at every Minor League level in the Padres’ system, and he has some pop and power in his bat.

Let’s take a gander at Clark’s 2011 season in Tucson shall we.  While Anthony Rizzo stole the headlines in Triple-A last season, Clark was his usual efficient self and put up a solid season highlighted with an output of a .292 BA, 24 2B’s, 23 HR’s, 83 RBI’s, a .363 OBP, a .498 SLG, and a .861 OPS.  I went to a handful of games last year in Tucson and saw Clark up close.  While everybody in the stands was either focused on Rizzo, or talking about him after his call-up, I couldn’t help but watch Clark go out and quietly play some solid baseball.  Clark’s production in Tucson was reflective of his output over the course of his Minor League career, and his power and run production statistics over the last 3 seasons in A-AAA Ball (2009-2011) (Fort Wayne/Lake Elsinore, San Antonio, and Tucson) illustrate said consistency:

2B’s: 81
3B’s: 5

HR’s: 75

RBI’s: 281

Averaged out, Clark has been putting up 27 2B’s, 25 HR’s, and almost 94 RBI’s per season since 2009.  Not bad at all when you consider that the Louisiana State product was drafted in the 12th Round by San Diego in 2008.  Nevertheless, Clark does have a penchant for Striking Out, and has whiffed 396 times from 2009-2011.  Developing a more consistent and keen eye at the plate will be huge for a player like Clark, because in spite of his high Strike Out totals, his respectable OBP of .339 in San Antonio in 2010 is his Minor League low.

As a defender, Clark is beginning to become more versatile for playing time’s sake.  With Yonder Alonso now “The Guy” at First, Clark will likely have to transition from his natural position to the Corner Outfield spots if he does make the big club.  Luckily, Clark saw time in both Left and Right Field in Tucson because of Anthony Rizzo, and Matt logged 75 Games between both spots in addition to the 33 games at First Base in 2011.

How Does Clark Fit In?

As is the case with Decker, and guys like Kyle Blanks, it truly is a “numbers game” right now in terms of playing time to be had as a backup at First Base and at one of the Corner Outfield spots.  While Clark is likely a year/year and a half away from entrenching himself on the Padres’ 25 man roster, he could fall victim to said “numbers game” before he makes a regular season impact with the club.

Byrnes went on quite the wheeling and dealing splurge during an offseason that saw San Diego ship the highly touted yet highly disappointing Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs.  That being said, Byrnes might consider moving a guy like a Decker, Clark, or Blanks that is blocked at every turn defensively on the diamond, for some help in the Middle Infield, the Bullpen, etc..  It would not surprise me in the least if the Padres again utilized their wealth of young talent at First Base and in the Corner Outfield spots to their advantage via the trade.

Yet as I discussed in the Decker article (which Justin alluded to earlier), Carlos Quentin is no sure thing for San Diego beyond 2012 because his contract does not extend through this season.  Furthermore, Will Venable is still a bit of a mystery and entering a “make-or-break year” for the Padres, and Yonder Alonso has yet to play a full season in the majors.  Clark will thus have to make the most of any and every opportunity he gets with the Padres, because there will be talent at every spot he tries to win.

Final Thoughts

As is the case with Decker, Spring Training is not over, and Clark will have to continue to prove himself over the next few weeks.  The talent and production are there for Clark to eventually find himself on a major league roster someday.  6’5″ 215 lb. Left Handed Hitting First Basemen with some pop simply do not grow on trees, and Clark’s added hopeful versatility as an Outfielder is a definite plus.  Hopefully the logjam for backup playing time and roster spots at First Base and Corner Outfield are settled soon.  But hey, at least it’s a nice problem to have.