Max Clark's Five-Tool Skill Set Makes Him The Real Deal
The term is overused and has lost some of its meaning, making the utterly uncommon seem common.
In its purest definition, a five-tool player is a position player who has five plus tools. He has well above-average hitting ability, power, speed, throwing arm and defensive ability.
All too often, a player is described as a five-tool player even if his hitting ability is in question. Or someone will be described as a five-tool player even though his arm is below-average. Or an average defender will be described as having all five tools.
Mike Trout in his prime was a five-tool player. Mariners rookie center fielder Julio Rodriguez is potentially a five-tool player. Braves rookie center fielder Michael Harris II could end up as a five-tool player.
But the number of true five-tool players in the major leagues is an exceedingly small number. Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. will have to make significant improvements as a hitter to be a five-tool player. Juan Soto is a great player, but he’s not a five-tool player.
So when scouts say that Indiana high school outfielder Max Clark has the potential to be a five-tool player, we know that the term carries a lot baggage and prompts raised-eyebrow skepticism.
But trust us on this one: Clark, the No. 1 high school prospect for the 2023 draft, has a chance to be a true five-tool player. No caveats. No wishy-washiness. Clark has no fringe-average tools masquerading as plus. He is the real deal.
Clark hit .577/.717/1.126 with nine home runs in 25 games as a junior this spring for Franklin Community High. He drew 31 walks while striking out just three times. It was further evidence of how his smooth, compact lefthanded swing gives him well above-average contact rates with impact.
But it’s also fair to say that the level of competition Clark faced in Indiana is not indicative of what he will face in pro ball. So let’s look at what Clark has done in national showcase events.
He has played in a lot of showcases over the past three seasons. Synergy Sports has logged 46 games and 147 plate appearances for Clark, many of which came against older players in the 2022 draft class.
In those 46 games, Clark hit .496/.592/.647 with eight doubles, five triples, 25 walks and 11 strikeouts. If you look at the events he has played in 2021 and 2022—a total of 31 games—he hit .529/.608/.682 with 17 walks and four strikeouts in 102 plate appearances.
Clark’s swing-and-miss rate over the past two years in those events was 6%, a truly remarkable number. It’s always tricky to project a prep hitter to be a plus hitter in MLB, but Clark is one of the safer bets.
This is the one tool that requires the most projection for Clark. The 17-year-old’s power is largely limited to his pull side at present.
Clark uses the entire field and has not yet shown a propensity to attempt to yank inside fastballs in advantage counts. He is looking to make contact, and he doesn’t sell out for power.
But Clark has the bat speed, contact ability and an extremely strong lower half to develop into a 20-25 home run hitter as he matures. While projection is required to get Clark to plus power, it’s also the tool that is most likely to dramatically improve in pro ball.
Clark turns in some 4.0-second run times from home to first base. As a lefthanded hitter, that gives him plus-plus speed.
He’s also shown the ability to finish sub-6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Speed is an important part of his game, and he is an accomplished bunter who can turn a routine infield grounder into a single with his speed.
Clark is a rangy, aggressive center fielder. His 70-grade speed is an asset in the grass.
Because of the nature of showcase events, he has also played in the corners in some USA Baseball events, but he’s a true center fielder with a quick step and solid routes.
Clark may eventually slow down as his body matures, but projecting him as a plus center fielder for many years is reasonable.
Like many top high school players, Clark is the best athlete on his team. He doubles as a lefthanded pitcher who posted a 0.44 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 16 innings this year. He can touch 95 mph and sits in the low 90s.
On throws from the outfield, Clark will flash his plus arm as well, though he could improve the consistency of his throws.