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Top 25 Mets Prospects for 2024: Ryan Clifford (4)

Next on our list is an infielder/outfielder

Amazin Avenue Prospect List

Name: Ryan Clifford

Position: 1B/OF

Born: 7/20/2003

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 200 lbs.

Bats/Throws: L/L

Acquired: Trade (August 1, 2023: Traded by the Houston Astros with Drew Gilbert to the New York Mets for Justin Verlander)

2023 Stats: 25 G, 92 AB, .337/.488/.457, 31 H, 5 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 25 BB, 27 K, 3/4 SB, .453 BABIP (Single-A)/90 G, 331 AB, .242/.339/.486, 80 H, 15 2B, 0 3B, 22 HR, 39 BB, 113 K, 2/3 SB, .286 BABIP (High-A)

A North Carolina native, Ryan Clifford attended Leesville Road High School, a public school in Raleigh. As a freshman, he had a .526 on-base percentage and hit 4 hit four home runs in 21 games. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the 2020 baseball season to end early, Gatorade continued their tradition of awarding an award to the best high school player from each state, and the 2020 Gatorade Player of the Year (North Carolina) Award went to Clifford, who hit .692 with 3 home runs in 4 games.

After his sophomore season, he transferred to the Pro5 Baseball Academy in Apex, North Carolina, a program that has sent nearly 90% of its students either to college to play baseball or straight to the pros out of the MLB Draft. There, Clifford and his family reasoned, he would be able to get year-round training and exposure in preparation for a professional baseball career. Over the next two years, his profile would rise and his name would commonly be bandied about by scouts and evaluators for his work at workouts and in exhibition games across the showcase circuit- not that his name was an unknown one, as he was on the gold medal winning 12-U and 15-U U.S. National Teams in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

Clifford was considered one of the better high school bats in the draft class, but his slightly older age relative to his peers coupled less-impressive-than-expected numbers in his junior and senior seasons and his commitment to Vanderbilt University caused him to fall through the cracks and drop down the board. Indeed, the Mets were high on him and were considering drafting him in a high round thanks to their two first-round picks and additional QO free agent compensation round pick but were unable to make the money work with the higher-priority players they were already deciding to draft. Finally, in the 11th round of the 2022 MLB Draft, the Houston Astros selected him, the 343rd overall selection made. Astros scouting director Kriss Gross was initially unsure if the team would be able to find the financial flexibility to sign Clifford, but knew they had to try when he dropped all the way to the 11th round. Ultimately, they were able buy him out of his commitment to Vanderbilt, signing him for $1,256,530, roughly equivalent to the MLB-assigned slot values of second-round picks in the 2022 MLB Draft. Much like the Mets strategy in a handful of recent drafts, the Astros were able to find the additional funds to sign Clifford by shaving small amounts from the bonuses offered to their top 10 picks.

Clifford made his professional debut later that summer with the FCL Astros Orange, the Astros’ Florida Complex League team. Appearing in 13 games, he went 8-36 with 3 doubles, 1 home run, 2 stolen bases, and 12 walks to 16 strikeouts, a .222/.440/.389 batting line. He was promoted to the Single-A Fayette Woodpeckers in the Carolina League and finished out the season going 11-41 with them with 2 doubles, 1 home run, and 10 walks to 15 strikeouts, a .268/.412/.390 batting line. All in all, his professional debut went well, as he hit .247/.426/.390 with 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 2 stolen bases, and 22 walks to 31 strikeouts in 25 combined games.

He began the 2023 season with the Woodpeckers and spent 25 games with them before being promoted to the High-A Ashville Tourists in May. Clifford was phenomenal, hitting .337/.488/.457 in 25 games with 5 doubles, 2 home runs, 3 stolen bases, and 25 walks to 27 strikeouts. For as good as the 19-year-old was, he was just scratching the surface. In the two-and-a-half months he played with the Tourists from mid-May until the end of July, Clifford hit .271/.356/.547 in 58 games with 11 doubles, 16 home runs, 1 stolen base, and 21 walks to 61 strikeouts. On August 1, the Mets traded Justin Verlander to the Astros and received Clifford and former Tourists teammate Drew Gilbert in return. Clifford was assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones and finished out the rest of the season there, hitting .188/.307/.376 in 32 games with 4 doubles, 6 home runs, 1 stolen base, and 18 walks to 51 strikeouts. All in all, with all three teams, he hit .262/.374/.480 with 20 doubles, 24 home runs, 5 stolen bases in 7 attempts, and 64 walks to 140 strikeouts. Clifford was one of 5 teenagers in all of minor league baseball with 20 or more home runs in 2023, and he hit the ball as hard as virtually anyone in his age group, with a 90th percentile exit velocity of 107.1 MPH.

At the plate, the 6’3”, 200-pound Clifford stands square at the plate, holding his hands at his head and angling his bat head at 10:00. He swings with a slight kick/toe tap without much of a load or weight transfer. His left-handed stroke is smooth, efficient, and quick, producing light tower power, but it is also long and his contact rates and strikeout rates trended in the wrong directions in 2023 as the season went on. While Brooklyn is certainly tough on hitters, Clifford’s groundball rate jumped from a 35.7% in Ashville to a 47.8% with the Cyclones, while his line drive rate dropped about 5% and his flyball rate increased about 5%. Perhaps intimidated by Maimonides Park, a stadium well known for suppressing left-handed power, or perhaps just in a home-run happy mode thanks to his success with the Tourists, but he also stopped using as much of the field, pulling the ball at a 41.2% rate as opposed to 34.4%, going up the middle at a 27.9% rate as opposed to 21.7%, and going to the opposite field at a 30.9% rate as opposed to 43.9%.

He does have an advanced approach at the plate as compared to most other players his age, making smart swing decisions, working counts and focusing on pitches he can drive, but in his own words, many of the walks he drew in 2022 and early 2023 were from facing pitchers with poor command. He can sometimes be too passive at the plate when pitchers do not show pinpoint control, working himself into unfavorable counts by coming up to the plate with the intention of not swinging at anything questionable or borderline.

Defensively, Clifford provides little value at any of the positions that he played in 2023. In the outfield, he is a net neutral fielder, buoyed by his strong arm. His speed is fringy at best and based on his body type, as he ages he will likely lose additional athleticism and range. His read of the ball off the bat and the routes that he takes in the field are both suboptimal, and more work needs to be put in to improve both. His work at first base is also not great and needs to improve his receiving abilities and his reactions to quick plays.