By Todd Johnson
One of the great joys over the past two summers has been sitting back and watching the Eugene Emeralds play on TV. It’s great to see some of the Cubs’ youngest prospects begin their careers. Last summer, for only two games, I got to see Bailey Clark, the Cubs 2016 5th round pick, dazzle hitters with his mid 90s fastball. I expected him to begin 2017 in South Bend mowing down hitters in the Midwest League. That did not happen. Whether it was shoulder related or the aftereffects of him missing time due to finishing his degree at Duke, he’s back in Eugene to start his season.
I really like what Clark brings to the table. He has a nice low-to-mid 90s fastball, a curve with a nice 2 to 7 break, and he has a pretty good frame at 6’4″ in which to go deep into games and a season. Most importantly, I think he has a bulldog type mentality. He is not going to give in to a hitter, he is going to attack and attack. These are all the kinds of things you want in a major league starter.
I see all these things and I’m really pulling for this guy to make it. The Cubs really need an arm like his. But, he’s not going to develop overnight. I think when it clicks for him, it’s going to click fast. Basically what needs to happen is he needs to improve his command.
Last’s night start against Boise was a perfect example.
It was a tale of two games. In the first part of the game, Bailey Clark had trouble commanding his pitches. He gave up a couple of ill timed hits, a walk, and next thing you know it was 2-0 after an inning.
But when you start to dig deeper, he was not getting in good pitching counts. It’s not that he was laboring to get through the inning, but a 25 pitch 1st inning is not conducive to a long start. I initially thought that there was no way he was going to make it through even three innings. But as they say in Mexico, the worm turned. He came out in the second and struck out three out of four hitters.
The third saw the frustration creep in again. Three singles, a balk, and a wild pitch lead to two more runs. It was 4-0. I thought he was done for the night. I was wrong.
In the fourth and fifth innings, Bailey Clark looked like a major-league pitcher toying with the Boise Hawks lineup. He only needed 7 pitches in the fourth to dispose of the Hawks. In the 5th, he just needed 12. By the end of the fifth, he was at 79 pitches and had struck out nine batters in total. I don’t know if something clicked or he just finally get warmed up, but he got in a serious groove. You don’t see that very often in the minor leagues. Then , you ask yourself, why can’t you do that all the time? I remarked to a friend, “He just needs to start in the second inning and he’ll be fine.“
If not is if the Cubs are bereft of starting pitching in the minors, they are not. However, there are only a handful of guys you can say, “I can see that guy pitching in the majors,” or “I could see him pitching for the Cubs.” I can see Bailey Clark pitching in the majors for the Cubs. I can see him starting. I can see him relieving. I can see his 2 to 7 breaking ball wiping out hitters.
While his start last night was frustrating, it was also magical. I think that is who he is right now. Hopefully, he moves to magical side in the coming starts. With 18 Ks in just 15.1 IP, that is something to hang a hat on. On the other hand, a 1.63 WHIP is not. They key, as I see it, is to ignore the bad stats and focus on his development. He did a lot of things right last night. Sure, there were mistakes, but you can learn just as much in baseball from succeeding, if not more, than you can from mistakes. It might be best to play to his strengths.
After watching his last two innings, I am a little excited to see how he does in his next start in about a week’s time. If all goes well, I hope to see him in South Bend in August.
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