By Carlos Collazo
Denzel Clarke is one of two Canadian players invited to the Under Armour All-America Game—along with his cousin, Noah Naylor—and is a player scouts will be extremely interested in bearing down on.
Not one of the most well-known players in the 2018 class at this point, Clarke is an extremely athletic outfielder with a wiry frame who offers some exciting potential in the batter’s box as he continues to work on and refine his swing.
Baseball America caught up with Clarke to talk about Canadian baseball, his development, how his mom’s Olympic background has helped him and more.
Baseball America: How did you get started with baseball?
Denzel Clarke: For me I didn’t start baseball until I was like 10. I played soccer and then I got asthma so I kind of stopped soccer. I couldn’t do much running anymore. I actually went down to Noah (Naylor)’s house one time. We went outside, it was like me, him, Josh (Naylor), his uncle and we went outside with a stick and a tinfoil ball and we were playing baseball outside. Our uncle suggested I play baseball, so I got to house league during that fall and that’s kind of how I got started.
BA: What is baseball in Canada like?
DC: It’s been helpful. In the winter when the weather’s cold, we can go down in October and March and we can go down in Florida and play against some instruction league guys. And playing against high competition like that that really helps advance our game and understand what the next level’s all about.
BA: With you playing for the Toronto Mets and your cousin Noah Naylor playing for the Ontario Blue Jays, is there a little rivalry there?
DC: It’s gone on for a while. When I got into the organization the first thing I heard was like our rivals are the Ontario Blue Jays. We plan to compete with them the best we can. So I’ve kind of adapted to that when I’ve been with the Mets and they’re like, ‘when we play them it’s bigger than when we play anyone else.’
BA: What’s it like playing against your cousin like that? Do you feel like you can give your pitcher’s some advice on how to attack him or anything like that?
DC: No, he’s probably too good of a hitter for that. It’s fun playing against him, like when I walk up to the plate and he’s catching we’ll talk when I’m hitting for a bit. It’s just a lot of fun playing with guys you know.
BA: So we’ve heard your mom is an Olympic heptathlete. Can you explain what exactly that is and how that’s helped you, if at all, with baseball?
DC: So a heptathlon is like seven different events over two days. So there’s like a couple of them I know, long jump, high jump, shot put, javelin . . . So really incorporating lower body and upper body. So just from her athletic experience and knowing how to develop the different parts of your body, like upper body, lower body, has really helped me. And since she had to do so many different events and be good in each one of them, she lets me know that being good in your all-around game is something you should really work on.
BA: How has that translated to baseball?
DC: Definitely the running. She teaches me sprinting, so that’s something really big and I really try to work on my running as much as I can, try and get faster. And hopefully I can do that as my body develops, as I get stronger as well.
BA: Denzel, we’ve heard you are this really athletic player but a bit raw. Would you agree with that assessment and what are some things you want to work on?
DC: 100 percent accurate with that. Definitely, I’m a raw player, I haven’t been playing for too long. But I feel like I go out there and compete everyday, make sure I have fun, make sure I learn from the failures I have. That’s just something I really want to focus on. And something I feel like I really need to work on is my strength for sure. But that will come with my development as I grow older. But getting in the weight room, definitely working on my swing and working on arm strength as well. Just working on my all-around game.
BA: You mentioned running. That seems like it’s something that you can only improve on so much, but what are some of the drills or workouts you can do to improve in that area?
DC: Just improving your form, focus on where your hands need to be, pumping your hands really fast. Some guys run with their legs behind them. It’s important to get your legs in front of you and get a lot of traction off the ground I guess. Then, all the drills you do before in your warmup, that’s really important because everything’s going to eventually translate into how you run. And then work on explosive stuff as well, like plyometrics, that really helps with sprinting.
BA: Any weightlifting to go along with that?
DC: Weightlifting can help a little bit, but if you put on too much it’s going to probably slow you down a little bit. So just being smart in the weight room if you’re a speed type of player.
BA: Are there educational components with your travel ball programs? Can you touch on how you keep up with school while traveling?
DC: Obviously with the junior national team you’re going to be missing a lot of school, so you can bring your homework down (to tournaments), bring your schoolwork, communicate with your teachers. Then you can have like an hour or two just to bear down and get your work done. So I feel like the junior national team can provide that time for you where you can get your work done and it’s just really good overall.
BA: What was it like when you found out that you were coming to the Under Armour All-America Game?
DC: For me, when I got the information, I know all the talents that have been through this game before. It was just a really big honour. And I feel like my hard work’s paid off, but the hard work’s not done yet. A lot more to go.
BA: Anything in particular you are looking forward to aside from the game itself?
DC: I think this experience is going to be a really good one, so just enjoying every part of it . . . And we’re playing at Wrigley Field—an MLB stadium. It’s going to be a pretty awesome experience.
BA: Who are some players you either look up to or try and model your game after?
DC: I like a couple players, Carlos Gonzalez. He’s just a cool, smooth player. Got a lot of swagger to him. And I know he’s not an outfielder, but I really like Adrian Beltre, the way he plays the game, he just has a lot of fun when he plays. But for who I model my game after, maybe Lorenzo Cain or Adam Jones. Like a long, lanky outfielder like me. Just being able to watch them and see what they do at the professional level, trying to be able to implement that into my game.
BA: What are some of those things that you’ve tried to put into your game?
DC: They are really good defenders. Good reads on balls and they are really good at finishing their routes, so closing down balls after they get good jumps on them.
BA: What kind of music do you listen to?
DC: I listen to anything. Except for if it gets too loud, like heavy metal and rock. And I’m not really a country fan either, so sorry to all the country fans.
BA: What’s your go-to Chipotle order?
DC: I’ll get both meats, chicken and steak. And then I’m not really a big rice guy. I’ll eat it for the nutrition, but I’ll throw in the corn and salsa, throw in the cheese, sour cream. I’ll get a different variety of stuff.