Pitching isn’t all about pure stuff. It is possible to throw softer yet elicit weak contact and be a successful major league pitcher in a variety of ways. You can have excellent command, heavy movement on your pitches, or you can hide the ball well and make it difficult for hitters to pick it up out of your hand. For Ethan Clark, the success that made him the Tampa Bay Rays’ 15th round pick was a little bit of each of those.
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Clark, a sophomore right-hander out of Crowder College in Missouri, has that durable pitcher’s build at 6’6″, 235. He doesn’t have the electric arsenal that you might expect from that big of a frame–instead, he is a finesse guy, and a pretty good one. Clark stays around 90 MPH with his fastball, and he takes advantage of his height to get a good downward angle on the pitch. He gets sink when he throws the pitch to either side of the plate and also some run when he goes away to right-handed batters. His arsenal also plays up thanks to a little deception.
Clark can be homer-prone when he stays up in the zone, but for the most part, he throws the fastball for strikes and does a good job keeping it down. Forcing groundballs isn’t always the best strategy in junior college–you never know what the infield defense is going to be like behind you–but that tendency will serve him well as a professional. Clarke also throws two decent secondary pitches, a curveball and a changeup. He will hope to refine them further as he joins the Rays system.
Usually going back to junior college for a second season does not bode well for a prospect’s career, but Ethan Clark made major strides in his sophomore year at Crowder. After managing a 4.39 ERA and a 33-17 strikeout to walk ratio in 42 innings as a freshman, he improved to a 4.04 ERA and a 62-22 strikeout to walk ratio in 62.1 innings pitched in Year 2. If the improvement in ERA isn’t striking, it is worthing mentioning that the Crowder staff had a 3.61 ERA in his first year but just a 5.09 mark in his second. His team’s pitchers became a lot worse, but he only got better.
Clark isn’t a pitcher to dream on, but he is a solid relief arm who will contribute in the lower minors right away and hope to work his way into a major league relief role at some point in the future. He makes up for a less-than-dominant arsenal by doing a lot of the little things well on the mound, and he showed the Rays enough that they targeted him with this pick.
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