Baseball has had its share of famous high school prospects.
Those teenagers’ names were known nationally to fans before they signed their first pro contracts.
Like that trio, Indiana high school outfielder Max Clark has a chance to be drafted first overall. And it seems like only a matter of time before the 18-year-old Franklin Community High product is a household name.
Clark already has as much social media clout as any prep baseball prospect. He has 600,000-plus ritualistically checking their smartphone notifications across a handful of social media platforms, where his brand thrives.
A simple Google search reveals that the hype for Clark is real.
From a Wikipedia page of his own to a YouTube clip of him putting “on a show for his last BP at Perfect Game!” in early June to the biggest of all questions: “Will Max Clark get drafted?”
Now, Clark adds one more Google search result: Baseball America High School Player of the Year.
“Yeah, he’s a busy guy,” Franklin Community baseball coach Ryan Feyerabend said. “And he handles it all like a pro, good or bad.”
Lately, it has been far more good for Clark. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound lefthanded hitter completed a remarkable senior campaign that included a .646 batting average with 33 RBIs, 45 runs scored and six home runs with a state-record 52 walks in 120 plate appearances.
Clark, who is from Franklin, about 20 miles south of Indianapolis, finished his high school career with a .551 average in 216 at-bats. He hit 21 home runs while striking out just 16 times in three seasons. His 2020 freshman year was wiped out by the pandemic.
Scouts assess Clark as having the potential to develop multiple plus tools. He is one of the best pure hitters in the 2023 high school class, with outstanding range in center field. He receives his highest grades for his speed and arm strength, both potentially double-plus attributes.
“Out in the social media world, Max is a really big deal,” Feyerabend said. “And he is a big deal, but I just kind of see him—and I hate to say he’s just another player—but that’s kind of how he acts.
“He shows up. He puts his (numbers) up, and asks about the plan and is like, ‘Coach, let’s go!’ ”
That work ethic is precisely how Clark rose to prominence. He headed into 2023 as the top prep prospect for the draft and lived up to the hype and scrutiny. North Carolina high school outfielder Walker Jenkins moved ahead of Clark on the draft ranking, but that was not an indictment of Clark so much as an endorsement of Jenkins’ hit-plus-power potential.
When he’s not crushing long balls during batting practice using a custom 33.25 Pro Maple with his name and “13MC” engraved in its wooden fibers, Clark flashes his personality with necklaces, energetic bat flips, vibrant batting gloves and eye black fashioned into a cross on each cheek that he smears down to his chin, professing his faith.
“He’s always saying, ‘Thanks, coach for doing that. Thanks, coach, for this or that,’ ” Feyerabend said. “I tell him, ‘Max, we’re over the ‘thank you’ like two or three years ago. . . .
Your actions speak that you appreciate what everybody is doing for you.”
Feyerabend recalled a road game early this season that showed Clark’s commitment.
“After the game there were lots of kids who wanted autographs,” he said. “We would hang out for another 20 minutes. (Max) puts on a smile, makes sure he takes pictures with everybody, and he just embraces the mentor kind of role for the younger kids. That was really exciting and a lot of fun to see.”
That’s not surprising given Clark’s steady progression from travel baseball standout with the Indiana Bulls organization to premium draft prospect. He has shown a maximum exit velocity of 102.6 mph and a time of 6.47 seconds in the 60-yard dash, according to Prep Baseball Report Indiana.
As a sophomore, Clark’s maximum fastball velocity of 97 mph from the left side garnered immediate attention. In 2021, he went 6-0, 0.84 in 10 appearances, highlighted by 120 strikeouts in 50 innings.
“I knew about the time when he was in seventh grade that he was starting to turn into a lot better player than a lot of kids in his age group. He really got the baseball bug and started working hard,” Feyerabend said.
“He comes in as a freshman—and he played football and basketball—but he would still come to our winter workouts when he could. We were all ready to go for baseball, but then Covid hit . . .
“Obviously, for a lot of kids, I think that really hurt them. But for Max that’s kind of when he got creative and knew he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way of the goals he wanted to achieve.”
Instead of losing time, Clark got busy.
While in lockdown during the spring of 2020, Clark sought out a hitting net, a tee and committed to basic calisthenics. He used his family’s rural property to conduct long-toss sessions, belt towering blasts into cornfields and do anything he could until months later when facilities opened back up.
“I feel like that freshman year during Covid, that’s when he kind of leapfrogged a lot of people,” Feyerabend said, “just by his sheer work ethic.”
As Clark prepared for his sophomore year, he trained alongside local minor league players.
“He would go hit against minor leaguers. Not college kids, but pros,” Feyerabend said. “He’d send me a text and say, ‘Hey, coach. I just hit a 98 mph sinkerball.’ ”
Feyerabend had not coached Clark in a game at that point, but he could see Clark was a special talent.
“There were a few things on Twitter by then, where I could actually see him perform,” the coach said. “That’s kind of when I knew. I knew Max was talented and I knew he was good, but he didn’t look outmatched against upper-90s fastballs as a 16-year-old kid.”
Wth USA Baseball, Clark endured his first major setbacks. Cut from the 2021 national team as a rising junior, Clark returned a year later to help lead the 2022 squad to gold at the under-18 World Cup in Florida.
“That was cool because he had been cut from that team a few times when he was younger,” Feyerabend said. “His freshman year, they said he was pretty talented, but he wasn’t big enough now—and that’s all it took.
“I never had to mention the word ‘weight room’ or ‘strength and conditioning.’ That was it. That was game on for him.”
Clark’s signature moment at the World Cup occurred against Canada, when he clobbered a game-tying two-run homer in Sarasota. His heroics went viral on Twitter via USA Baseball’s 18U feed, foreshadowing his future.
Scouts took notice and flocked to Franklin in 2023 to watch Clark.
“Obviously, we don’t have so many scouts at everything we do every year,” Feyerabend said, “but early in the season, like our scrimmage that’s in the middle of March, I think we had 35 (scouts) there.”
What the scouts saw has Clark projected as the best prospect to come out of Indiana since Ball State righthander Bryan Bullington went first overall in 2002. Clark is all but assured of becoming the highest-drafted Indiana prep ever.
“I’m confident that every single day that I
. . . go in to train, play or anything, I know I’m going to go out there and make all my tools better, do whatever I can do to make me the best baseball player that I can be,” Clark said during a Perfect Game Presents interview.
“It’s just honing in on the mentality side. Confidence and things like that have taken my game to a whole other level.”
Richard Torres is a freelancer based in Indianapolis