Rays Find Intriguing Non-Drafted Free Agent in Mark Clark

By Robbie Knopf

Most non-drafted free agents in baseball fall under the same basic parameters. They are players who graduated from college, often as fifth-year seniors, who did not show enough to be selected in the draft, but impressed enough in a workout to warrant a look. There are certainly higher-profile cases, like John Norwood out of Vanderbilt and Brandon Poulson out of an art school in recent weeks, but almost everyone else is basically the same story. But then there is a whole other category of players: non-drafted free agents out of high school.

Instead of being 21, 22, or even 23, players of that category are just 18 or 19 and have more time to be molded into effective players. Usually players who go undrafted out of high school end up in a four-year school or at least junior college, but every once in a while someone slips through the cracks. The Rays already had one such player, Elliot Johnson, make the major leagues in their uniform, and now they will hope for a second in Mark Clark, who joins them out of South Side High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Clark has been listed between 6’4″ and 6’5″ and between 195 and 200 pounds. He was officially signed as a catcher, but he also has experience in the outfield. No matter what the exact information is, he has some talent. He was recruited and eventually signed by the University of Arkansas, who are (of course) an SEC school serious about its sports. He is known for his power, as evidenced by his 11 home runs as a junior in high school, but also his passion for the game and his ability to recognize pitches. That last point is especially interesting given that pitch recognition is the reason why so many talented players fail to reach their potential. He is a big guy with some athleticism and power, and that is not something to be ignored. For whatever reason, Clark made himself available as a non-drafted free agent and the Rays were able to sign him.

We will have to see if Mark Clark is actually a catcher, especially as such a big player, but at the very least, his offensive potential makes him a player to watch. It is not as though Clark is a top prospect, but the Rays are taking no risk at all by signing him, and he will certainly be worth his roster spot at Rookie ball. The odds are long, but the Rays have that one success story in Johnson and would love a second. Let’s see if the Rays can turn Mark Clark into something.