In just a short time in professional baseball, Denzel Clarke has done incredible things to make his name jump off the page.
Earlier this month, the A’s No. 11 prospect became the first player in professional baseball history to hit an inside-the-park homer in consecutive games for High-A Lansing. This unique feat came shortly after a Futures Game appearance, during which he made a difficult catch on a Joey Wiemer fly ball that sent him crashing into the right field fence in Dodger Stadium.
When he’s not dominating a highlight reel, Clarke is still figuring a lot of things out about himself during his first professional season. He’s batting .277 in August with the Lugnuts with 11 extra-base hits, RBIs and walks. It’s an encouraging bounce back from a slow start in the Midwest League that saw him bat .193 with a .606 OPS in 22 prior games.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound outfielder was an intriguing Draft prospect as a Toronto high schooler and member of Canada’s under-18 national team. Clarke’s greatest tool is his athleticism, which allows him to move quite fast for a man of his size. He also has enviable bloodlines, as his mother, Donna, was an Olympic heptathlete for Canada in the 1984 games, and he is a cousin of Guardians’ sluggers Josh and Bo Naylor.
Clarke attended Cal State Northridge, was selected by Oakland in the fourth round of last year’s Draft and signed an above-slot deal worth $700,000. He played seven games in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League before finishing the season on the 60-day injured list.
The A’s assigned the 22-year-old to Single-A Stockton at the start of the season, where he batted .295 with a .965 OPS and 23 extra-base hits in 42 games before getting the bump to Lansing in June.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, Clarke talks about the routines that helped him achieve his early-season success and his goals for the remainder of the season. He also discusses his Futures Game exploits and life in a family of athletes.
MiLB.com: You had a good start and earned a pretty quick promotion in your first full season. What was working for you in the first half?
Denzel Clarke: Just putting in a lot of work over this offseason. My biggest thing was -- my understanding of pro baseball. ... I know there was going to be a lot of adjustments to be made. So for me, it was going to be like, how fast can I make an adjustment to keep myself on track. That was the mindset going into the year. I started off and my first couple of games are a little cold, but I was like, 'OK, I got to make an adjustment as quick as I can stay consistent.' Consistency is my biggest thing this year.
MiLB.com: What type of adjustments did you make?
Clarke: Basically I was just trying to be ready for the heater. And then, once I prove that I can hit the heater, you know you're going to start to see, like, the offspeed and stuff. So, once I proved I could hit the fastball, then a bunch of offspeed started coming. So, I had to make sure -- I was always going to be ready for the fastball, but I needed to make adjustments for the offspeed. I've been good at it, but I'm still making those adjustments and making those moves.
MiLB.com: The adjustments were clearly working early. You earned a promotion to Lansing. What was that experience like? Did they let you know in any fun way?
Clarke: It was super exciting to get the call-up and that was cool. Me and my manager ... sometimes I'd wear slides before games and he'd be like, 'Don't wear slides. Show up in shoes and look professional.' So, I was, like, 'OK,' and from that point on I made sure to wear shoes. When he called me into his office to tell me I'm going to Lansing, he was like... make sure you keep the professional look when you walk through the clubhouse because we don't know how your manager at Lansing feels if you don't come to the ballpark looking good everyday. So, that was fun. A fun little thing they did there. But I'm just learning how to carry myself on and off the field a little bit. ... I've been learning a lot. It's been super cool.
MiLB.com: Your mom was and Olympic heptathlete. Did you get to hear any good stories of the Olympic days and what was it like having that influence in the house?
Clarke: It's always cool. ... She's able to help me with a lot of things just do my career. ... It's just been awesome having her throughout my life, she's always been able to give me good advice. For sports and for non athletics. So everything she's done for me, everything she's been able to help out with has been awesome. It's always appreciated.
MiLB.com: I asked your cousin, Bo Naylor if he's as intense and excitable on the field as his brother, Josh. And he considered himself to be a lot more laid back. Now, where would you put yourself on the Bo to Josh Naylor clubhouse hype scale?
Clarke: That's a crazy question. I'd probably say a little more reserved, probably more on the Bo-spectrum. But the people who know me best know that I can get a little crazy. Balance is good with everything. So always want to keep it balanced.
MiLB.com: You had a Futures Game invite this year. Was there anything else from the experience that you were looking forward to, or that stands out now when you look back?
Clarke: The biggest thing, since it was in L.A., I had a lot of family, friends and everything in the area. So, I was excited for them to come out. A lot of family and friends got to see me play for the first time. So it's pretty cool stage to play in front of people and play in front of friends and family for the first time. That was awesome. That was probably what I was looking forward to the most.
MiLB.com: Now, in the game, you made a pretty great catch in a big spot. Could you take us through the play? Were there any reactions to it that have been fun?
Clarke: Honestly, it's pretty cool. I don't know, [Joey] Wiemer, the guy who hit me the ball, but we're kind of friends through one of our homies named Dondre Bremner. They went to school together, [at University of Cincinnati], and I played with Dondre growing up and, it was fun because Dondre shouted us both out on social media. ... Dondre was getting on me about that. It was pretty funny. Overall, it was cool. The ball was hit and I just went back and hit the wall. It came up pretty quick. I just had to make sure to squeeze onto it tight.
MiLB.com: Any other experiences from the game stick out?
Clarke: Yeah, I got to meet a bunch of cool players. Bunch of awesome former players. Adrian Beltre was one of my favorite players growing up just because of how much fun he had during the game. He was one of my coaches so that was an awesome experience just chatting with him a little bit, so overall it was just a great experience.
MiLB.com: Scouts describe you as long levered but still very agile with a lot of quick-twitch skill. How do you take advantage of that unique skill set?
Clarke: Just maintaining through the weight room and everything. ... It's kind of crazy considering my size and everything. My biggest thing is [taking] the gifts I've been given from God and continuing [hone them]. Those are the biggest things I work on.
MiLB.com: It is a bit anomalous for someone your size to have this skill set. Is there anybody similar around the game you might look to, to see what they do?
Clarke: Honestly, it's just long limbs. Seriously, long arms, long legs. That's the biggest thing. That's the biggest thing. See how they approach the game.
MiLB.com: Is there anybody in particular?
Clarke: Growing up, I watched a lot of Adam Jones. I'm trying to think right now. Yeah, mainly it's Adam Jones. And then, I'll go back through other comparisons I've had to some other players but, I don't get into that a whole lot.
MiLB.com: Is there anything you're looking forward to improving or want to be a point of focus in the last few weeks of the season here?
Clarke: Just continuing to make adjustments. Continuing to work on being as consistent as I can be. That's the biggest thing, and keep moving forward. That's my biggest thing.
MiLB.com: How do you successfully maintain consistency?
Clarke: Just develop a good routine. Good pregame routine. Just making sure my body's good all the time and have a good stretch routine to make sure my body is ready to go. That comes with a good pregame routine, good postgame routine and everything.
MiLB.com: Could you take me through your pregame routine?
Clarke: Yeah, there's a lot of stretching. Just making sure my swing feels right. Yeah, just get into it with the homies and everything. Just get my mind right for the game. That's the biggest thing.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.