The Arizona Fall League usually has its fair share of top Cub prospects. Last year, David Bote hit three home runs the first week and was one of the best hitters over the next five weeks. That was a bit of a surprise, but we saw how his participation in the league might have paid off. This year, most of the attention being paid to Cubs prospects will be focused on 2018 number one draft pick Nico Hoerner. Additionally, MLB Pipeline declared Justin Steele as their sleeper to do well. For me, that “sleeper” distinction falls squarely on the shoulders of pitcher Bailey Clark.
The Cubs drafted Clark in the fifth round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Beginning 2016, Clark struggled as a starter at Duke and wound up being moved to the bullpen. That first summer saw Clark flash some of his immense talent in a brief 11.2 innings of work between Mesa and Eugene.
I immediately fell in love with the easy arm action and the movement he gets on all his pitches, especially his breaking ball.
Clark had some nagging injuries in between the end of 2016 and the beginning of the 2017 season that prohibited him from doing any weight training in the offseason. His velocity in 2017 was down a little bit, down into the low to low-mid 90s, but he was getting excellent movement on his curveball. Come August 2017, the 6’4” right hander dominated the Northwest League with a 1.69 ERA as a starter. As a result, Bailey earned a trip to South Bend for the last week of the season.
For the first time in a couple years, Clark went into the offseason healthy. Consequently, Clark hit the weight room and strengthened his body to get ready for the 2018 season.
To begin 2018, Bailey shifted to the bullpen after spending most of his time as a starter the previous two summers. He was just lightning in a bottle every time he took the mound for South Bend touching 95 to 96 in April. His curveball wasn’t even fair; and by the end of April, he was on his way to Myrtle Beach after posting in 1.26 ERA.
At Myrtle Beach, Clark began in the bullpen and was dominating in eight bullpens in May. He was then moved into the starting rotation as he was touching 97 miles per hour regularly. However, nagging injuries returned, putting Clark on the shelf for June and July. He showed up again in August at Mesa before returning to Myrtle Beach, looking like he never missed a day. Combined, he struck out 63 batters in 57 innings in 2018.
As a result of missing two months, Clark is now in the Arizona Fall League playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. The league is filled with elite talent and should give the Cubs a pretty good precursor of what to expect from Clark once he reaches Double-A and higher.
The key for Bailey this fall will be to stay healthy and work on his either a changeup or another third pitch. When I watch him pitch, I can see a guy who can pitch in Chicago. More than likely, it’s going to be in the bullpen, but Bailey has what the industry likes to call a live arm with some pretty good late life. Not too many Cubs pitchers have the mix of fastball command and a devastating breaking ball that Bailey does when healthy.
It is unclear, at this point, what his role will be in 2019. Will he start? Will he relieve? Or, will he do both? Yes, his elite talent can go a long way, but Bailey’s talent has never been the question. He just needs to stay healthy. The next six weeks are going to be a key to his future and the faith the Cubs have in him.
Lead photo of Bailey Clark by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans