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Forcing the Issue: Matt Clark Edition


I was talking (via Twitter, because honestly, who actually talks anymore) to Mickey Koke of Through the Fence Baseball last night about Matt Clark. Koke is a friend of Chicken Friars, writes about the Padres for TTF, and usually has some insightful topics for us to discuss. Last night, he made a case for Matt Clark on the Opening Day roster if Kyle Blanks isn’t back from injury by that time. It was an interesting proposition, and got us to the point of discussing Clark’s on-field contributions this year and how he has basically force management to consider him for the big league club.

I’ve talked about Matt Clark quite a bit here, but the spring he has caught the attention of just about anyone who follows Padres baseball. His sweet swing, his power, and his athleticism make him an easy target for a big league promotion. There’s just one problem: he plays first base and left field.

Clark played his amateur ball at Louisiana State University. As a power-hitting first baseman, Clark blasted 28 home runs in 2008, tied for most in NCAA Division I that year. Clark’s skills did not go unnoticed. In fact, they hadn’t gone unnoticed prior to attending LSU. He played one year at Riverside Community College and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th round of the 2007 draft. Clark chose to return to college and transferred to LSU. After his monster 2008 season, Clark was again drafted. This time, he was picked by the San Diego Padres in the 12th round and signed. Matt Clark wasn’t on the top of anyone’s radar. He wasn’t an early-round pick. He had just one year of Division I ball under his belt. It was easy to see his pick in the 12th round as one that wouldn’t pan out. But Clark is looking to prove doubters wrong.

To date, Clark has played four minor league seasons. In that time he has moved from low-A ball to Triple-A. He has a minor league career line of .279/.357/.491. In 2009, Clark his 24 home runs. In 2010, he hit 28. And last year, he hit 23. He has power, and now he’s showing it off in spring training.

In 18 games this spring, Clark has had 29 at-bats. He’s hitting .483/.500/.863. He’s clubbed three home runs and two doubles. He has 25 total bases. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down. Clark us usually relegated to a sub role with Alonso starting at first base. But anytime he’s been given a chance, Clark has delivered. While Clark has seen the bulk of his time this spring at first base, the Padres website and lists Clark as a left fielder. He played 61 games in left last season. Prior to last year though he didn’t play the outfield.

Now, with Clark all but making people sit up and take notice, the questions about “too much depth” arise again. In left field, the Padres have Carlos Quentin. Once he returns from injury, he has the starting job. Outside of Quentin, the Padres have Kyle Blanks and Jesus Guzman slated as the second and third left fielders on the depth chart (order still to be determined). At first base, Yonder Alonso has a lock on the position. Jesus Guzman is all set to back-up that position as well. Clark is a man without a home.

But maybe, just maybe, Clark can sneak onto the Opening Day roster. Carlos Quentin will miss the first week or so of the season with his injury, and Kyle Blanks is experiencing left shoulder issues that have kept him out of action. Blanks is day-to-day but receiving injections for the shoulder. Should Blanks start the year on the DL, an unlikely proposition right now, and with Quentin on the shelf, Matt Clark may have a shot.

As it stands now, unfortunately, the Padres simply don’t have a cost spot for him. Unless the club looks to part ways with Jesus Guzman or Kyle Blanks, they don’t figure to have a cost spot for Clark in the foreseeable future. But the fact is, injuries could allow Clark a shot at breaking camp with the major league club. Injuries may allow him to get his feet wet in the bigs.

No one hopes for injuries, but hoping for an open roster spot is certainly within reason. Matt Clark is forcing the Padres brass to think long and hard about his career path.