Lexington Legends

Undrafted prospect sets club's saves record

Legends closer Kirk Clark hugged Brenda Wilson of Georgetown on July 14 after she delivered snacks to the team as she does for every Wednesday game.
Legends closer Kirk Clark hugged Brenda Wilson of Georgetown on July 14 after she delivered snacks to the team as she does for every Wednesday game. © Mark Cornelison

Kirk Clark's 2010 scouting report will note that he was among four Lexington Legends named to the South Atlantic League all-star game.

Also, with Tuesday's 3-1 win at Rome, Clark posted his 21st save to equal the season and career franchise record set by Daniel Freeman in 2003.

Scouting reports don't always tell all, though.

After all, Clark signed with the Astros as an undrafted free agent last August.

A 6-foot-2, 212-pound right-hander from Moline, Ill., he played two seasons at Iowa Western Community College.

"I was supposed to get drafted both of those years. Didn't happen," Clark said. "I proceeded to Creighton University, where I started off as a closer and then I just started working as a long-relief guy slash starter."

Undrafted again, though.

Clark moved on to summer ball in Alaska, which is where the Astros signed him.

"It ranks pretty high," he said when asked where Tuesday's club record ranks in his career. "Of course, just being in pro ball is probably the highest, but it's like icing on the cake. It just makes it feel so much better. Like being a free agent — a lot of people don't think you're going to accomplish much. But this feels amazing to actually go out there, compete and accomplish something."

Kirk, the youngest of Jeri and Jerry Clark's three children, turned 22 Monday.

Like virtually every professional closer, Clark's go-to pitch is a fastball. His ace in the hole, though, is a circle-changeup that Manager Rodney Linares calls "unhittable at times."

A pitch that Clark developed "just messing around playing catch" at age 14.

"I really never threw it when I was young because you can throw fastballs by anybody in a small town, you know?" he said. "But I really started using it when I was a starter in college, so it started working out really well."

His fastball sits at 89-93 mph. That's good but, by pro standards, not outrageous.

"The thing is that he has control and he spots his fastball well," pitching coach Rick Aponte said. "That's the key ingredient in pitching. You can be throwing 99 miles an hour, but if you don't have an idea where you're throwing it, it doesn't do any good."

Clark also mixes in an occasional slider.

Over 37 appearances and 381⁄3 innings, he leads the SAL in saves, is 3-1 with a 3.76 ERA and has 39 strikeouts to 18 walks.

Linares was hoping for such results.

"I saw him in spring training, I really liked him," Linares said. "A lot of the comments from the guys that had him before were positive and I saw him throw the ball well in spring training. He got the opportunity and he's run with it."

Not without an occasional misstep. Linares recalls Clark having problems for six games or so early in the season, when hitters were sitting on first-pitch fastballs.

Clark learned a lesson.

"He practices, works hard every day to become better and better," Aponte said. "He studies the game and watches film and watches the game entirely."

Practice paid off in Tuesday's win.

After giving up a leadoff single, Clark yielded another would-be hit on a bloop to center field. Both middle infielders and center fielder Grant Hogue chased the ball. When the ball dropped, though, Clark was in position to take a toss from Hogue, forcing leadoff hitter Riaan Spanjer-Furstenburg at second.

"Honestly, if I was in college, I never would have done that," Clark said with a laugh. "Because we practice that in PFPs (pitchers' fielding practice). ... Luckily, I just remembered from our practicing in PFPs that 'I'd better get to second base right now.'"

A single and a flyout later, Clark struck out Jake Hanson to end the game.

"I kind of had a shaky inning," Clark said. "Gave up a couple hits; should have been three hits but things happened my way. (A strikeout) just felt really good. Made me feel like I earned it."