Zach Clark managed to do the impossible this season. He won 15 games, posted an ERA below 3.00 and went largely ignored.
It’s the Dylan Bundy factor. And later, it became the Kevin Gausman factor. Top pitching prospects who garnered most, if not all, of the media’s attention.
Until 2012, Clark was best known for having pitched at UMBC. He was “local.” He also was an organizational guy who kept getting moved from one affiliate to the next whenever a spot opened up.
Clark, 29, was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2006 and never won more than 10 games before going 15-7 with a 2.79 ERA in 28 appearances this year, including 26 starts, between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.
Not bad, right?
Clark’s last eight appearances came with Norfolk, where he went 5-2 with a 1.75 ERA in 46 1/3 innings. He allowed only one home run. In his final outing on Aug. 31, he shut out Gwinnett on three hits and didn’t walk a batter. It was the first shutout and second complete game of his professional career.
You won’t find Clark’s name on any publication’s list of top prospects in the organization - his age pretty much disqualifies him - but there’s no denying that he showed significant improvement this summer.
“One thing I noticed about Zach this year is his velocity jumped up a little bit and I saw better command of all his pitches this year than I’ve seen in the past,” said Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin. “He still has the good, late sink to his fastball, which I’ve seen him have before, but I’ve seen better command. I’ve seen better swings and misses with his sinker.
“I’m still seeing a lot of good ground ball outs, but I think the most impressive thing that I’ve seen this year, more so than a couple years past, is his curveball and slider have gotten better as far as better consistency and just overall better command of the two pitches. He’s always had a good sinker and a good changeup, but the curveball and slider have really come on this year, from what I saw.”
Clark was 34-37 with a 3.93 ERA in his first five seasons. He pitched at four different levels in 2008, 2009 and 2010, climbing as high as Norfolk each year. He spent 2011 at Bowie, the only time that he’s stayed with one team, and registered a 5.00 ERA in 138 2/3 innings.
“There are some pitchers who are like that,” Griffin said. “I know I was. But as you get a little bit older, you’re kind of like a fine wine. You age a little bit and then you gain a little bit more maturity and then you gain a little bit more confidence. And I think that’s what we’ve seen out of Zach this year. I know he finished up strong for us and he was pretty happy with his overall season.”
Asked if he thinks Clark’s stuff could play in the majors, Griffin replied, “Yeah, I do. Whether it would be start or relief, I don’t know. We’ll have to test the waters and find out. But he has the stuff that can play up here. There’s no doubt.”