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Franklin’s Clark named Gatorade National Player of the Year

Mar 14, 2023Mar 14, 2023

Franklin senior Max Clark was named Gatorade's National Player of the Year, becoming the first high school baseball player from Indiana to win the award.

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Max Clark had long coveted Gatorade's National Player of the Year award; winning the honor was among the goals he wrote on his bathroom mirror prior to his senior season.

Now he can put a checkmark up there next to it. The recently graduated Franklin center fielder was surprised with the prestigious award in a presentation late Tuesday night at Mercer Field, surrounded by teammates, friends and family.

"It absolutely means the world to me," Clark said. "This has been the one award that I had not checked off the box yet. I was looking forward to going out there this season and really giving it my all to win this award, and to finally be here in this moment and have the award in hand is so surreal."

Being able to share the moment with those who’ve been along for the entire ride made it that much more gratifying.

"This couldn't have been done without a great community, a great fan base, great coaches, great friends and family," Clark added. "Franklin Community has been ridiculous throughout this entire process. There's not too many schools out there that have people showing up 500 deep in 39-degree rainy baseball all spring, and there's not too many people that stick around until the end throughout the ups and downs of the season. So having that total community support has been awesome."

A three-time winner of Gatorade's state player of the year award, Clark certainly had a legitimate argument for national honors during his sophomore and junior seasons. In 2021, he batted .450 with six home runs and 30 runs batted in while also going 6-0 on the pitcher's mound with a 0.84 earned-run average and 120 strikeouts in 50 innings. Last season, Clark hit .577 with eight doubles, nine round-trippers and 32 RBIs.

This spring, though, Clark was on a cartoonishly different level. He batted .646 (42 for 65) with nine doubles, five triples and six homers, 35 stolen bases, 45 runs scored and 33 RBIs. He was walked 52 times (and hit by pitch on three other occasions), finishing the season with an absurd on-base percentage of .808 and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 2.023.

His ability to change the game at the plate left many of Franklin's opponents willing to take the calculated gamble — take the bat out of Clark's hands and force someone else to beat them. On nine different occasions this season, Clark was walked at least three times.

Those situations frustrated Clark, but he did his best to maximize the hand he was dealt.

"It was extremely frustrating," he said, "but I was just finding ways to impact the game in different ways. If they put me on, likely you’re getting to two or three on steals. Jackson (Henry) and Beau (Baker) had great years too, so I was confident that those guys behind me would drive me in, and they did 90% of the time."

His time as a Grizzly Cub behind him, Clark turns his attention toward the Major League Baseball draft, which takes place July 9-11. Between now and then, Clark — who is widely projected as a top-five overall selection — will be taking part in the draft combine and conducting individual workouts and interviews with multiple teams.

Those who regularly cover the draft process hold Clark in pretty high regard.

"He might well be the best all-around player in this year's draft as a center fielder with four tools that grade as at least ‘plus’ to go with developing power," said Jim Callis, a senior writer for MLB Pipeline and a regular contributor on MLB Network.

Past winners of Gatorade's national award have included eventual major league stars Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. Clark, a projected top-five pick in next month's Major League Baseball draft, hopes to enjoy similar success down the line.

He knows, however, that the award itself guarantees none of that; only about a third of the previous winners have gone on to stick in the big leagues.

"This is just kind of a stepping stone to the next step," Clark said. "Obviously, it's great to win this award, and it is the most prestigious award out there … but this is just the beginning for me."