Portland Pickles outfielder/first baseman Zander Clarke is no stranger to the spotlight. From his prep days at Newbury Park High School in southern California, where he was a 2014 Perfect Game All-Region honorable mention selection, to his three years at PAC 12 powerhouse UCLA, he has seen his share of bright lights and big moments. Baseball wise, everything is starting to come together for Clarke in his second summer with the Portland Pickles of the Great West League.
Through August 1st, he leads the Pickles in batting average (.436), home runs (13), and RBIs (54). He leads the league in homers, and ranks second in both average and RBIs. Zander was named the league’s All-Star game MVP on July 24th in Chico, CA, hitting a home run in the mid-summer classic.
Clarke, who hit .266 with two home runs and 18 RBIs in his first summer with Portland in 2016, credited pitch recognition as the biggest improvement in his game, revealing,
“Last year I was trying to hit whatever pitch I could get me bat on and now I’m looking for a certain pitch, I’m letting pitches go that I can hit, but maybe not as hard. I’m chasing pitches I know I can hit hard and do damage with versus pitches I know I can just hit”.
The redshirt-sophomore played in 34 games for UCLA this spring, but struggled to find consistency at the plate. He did hit two home runs and drove in nine RBIs for the Bruins, who made the NCAA Tournament this year. On his experience at UCLA, Clarke reflected,
“I haven’t gotten as many in-game reps as I would like, but it’s really important to get better without actually playing in a game…just going to such a good school has taught me how to play the game and taught me the intricacies of the game that maybe some other schools might miss or maybe other players might not find valuable.”
His torrid play for the Pickles has drawn the attention on multiple professional scouts. Clarke said that he doesn’t feel any added pressure of playing in front of the scouts, stating confidently,
“For me, the game is played a pitch at a time, so when it comes to the grand scale of it all, things aren’t too big. You’ve just got to take it one pitch at a time and if you can win that pitch that’s all you need to do. When you factor in pro scouts, for me the confidence level goes up…things start to get easier because your confidence level goes up and you start to play better too.”
Clarke and his Pickles teammates are relishing their remaining time in Portland before heading back to their respective schools. The team clinched a playoff berth on July 29th, and will play the first-place Medford Rogues in the first round, with the first game scheduled for Sunday August 6th at Walker Stadium in Portland.