The scenario has been repeated so many times. A player comes on the scene with some skill and projectability, and begins to get recruited by some schools. Those schools are probably regional, and probably smaller. As the player’s performances begin to elevate and the attention of bigger, more powerful schools takes shape, programs with the initial jump get pushed to the back of the line.
Now meet 2021 grad Brandon Clarke, a 6’3” uncommitted LHP/1B out of Independence High School in Ashburn, Virginia. That is not his story. Well, the part about him elevating his performances and getting attention from premier programs is true. But he is not getting caught up in the recruiting buzz to a point where he ignores opportunities, regardless of the level of schools showing interest in him.
As he puts it, “I don’t want to shut doors.”
And plenty of doors are seemingly becoming available. The rising junior says these days he is consistently setting reminders on his phone to call 10-12 schools a week that range from members in the ACC and SEC, to programs in the CAA, the Big South and beyond.
It’s a course of events that Clarke says is very fun right now and will be worth it in the end, as he journeys to find that best fit for him academically and athletically. With great guidance from his parents, Brandon says the school part of the equation is very important to him and he’s excited to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing college baseball too.
As a member of the Dirtbags Bad Company team, Clarke is coached by Brent Haynes who says, “Brandon Clarke is a kid who has an electric arm and doesn’t throw anything straight.”
So how did a guy whose fastball was 79-83 in the fall of 2018 get so much notoriety by this summer? Clarke will tell you two things made a difference.
First, he has worked tirelessly to get stronger with an intense strength program combined with pitching instruction. That, along with the focus on arm care and mobility, have seen his velocity jump to 87-89 and bumping 90 mph. The increase has allowed the lefty to see his ability to pitch as a power arm now, at times dominating hitters with the fastball. But make no mistake Clarke’s breaking ball is still an important tool in his arsenal and he knows how to use it.
Haynes can attest to the improvements as he comments, “Brandon is a relentless worker and is always working to get better. It has showed this summer as he has made some major jumps on the mound.”
However, Haynes also reminds observers not to just focus only on Clarke’s pitching aptitude, but to also recognize his abilities at the plate. “Brandon is also a presence at the plate from the left side with some juice to the pull side.”
The other attributing factor that Clarke credits with bringing on this explosion of opportunities is being a part of the Dirtbags. Joining the organization in the summer of 2018, it was done after careful research into the success previous players had obtained connecting with top collegiate programs.
Now that he is a Dirtbag, Brandon sees all the connections being a part of the organization can bring as he rarely takes the mound now without a number of college coaches in attendance.
Add to that the level of play he is pushed to perform by being surrounded by such talented teammates and Clarke knows the Dirtbags experience is his right path to achieve his goals. He says the leadership aspect of his role on the team has been developed just as much as his baseball skills.
Citing his experiences as a Dirtbag, Brandon really seems to be charged up by the chances he is afforded to play with and against the best in the game at this level. From the 2019 opening weekend with the Bags when he was facing the vaunted Skrap Pak squad to the upcoming trip to Atlanta for this summer’s edition of the PG WWBA National Championship, Clarke is soaking in each moment. He sees each appearance on the mound and each trip to the plate as another chance to compete and show the baseball world how far he’s come.
Just as his recruiting process seems to not being anywhere close to being finished, the baseball world may not have even seen what will be Brandon Clarke’s best. And with a personality as electric as that left arm, the college program that lands his commitment is getting a young man who will make their club better beyond the diamond.