The college baseball season is in full swing, and it’s time to start looking at some under-the-radar MLB Draft prospects the Atlanta Braves should (or already may) have their eyes on. While our own Matt Powers usually delves into the draft world more closely, I’ll try to get a closer look at some DII baseball stars that could go later in the draft, but provide some nice value.
Today, it’s Nick Clarno. The third baseman-now-catcher currently plays for Lenoir-Rhyne. There are plenty of connections in the Braves’ system with the small Hickory, N.C. school. Justin Dean — our Battery Power No. 18 prospect in our preseason rankings — is a LR alum, as is Rome Braves pitching coach Wes McGuire. The two were teammates as a matter of fact.
Nick Clarno, Lenoir-Rhyne
What we know: Clarno is well-traveled. Listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds, Clarno began his career with North Georgia as a catcher and third baseman. He’s also had a few stints with the Savannah Bananas and now plays for the Bears. That, of course, means he is older, and we have seen in the past that has scared away a few MLB clubs.
He broke out in 2019, hitting .282 with 15 doubles and eight home runs for the Nighthawks. He tied for the team lead in RBI that same season before heading to Lenoir-Rhyne. He fared well in his first season with the Bears, but is off to a torrid start in 2022.
Why we are watching: If you follow the Savannah Bananas, you forget sometimes that they are very talented ballplayers because of the on-field fun they have. That said, while Clarno brings the skills, he also brings a lot of energy to the dugout and competitive vigor to the field.
Lenoir-Rhyne is off to an unbelievable start this season. Entering the weekend, the Bears were 22-2. Clarno was hitting .342 with 21 runs scored and three home runs in 22 of those games. It sounds like Clarno seems to be getting the most professional attention right now.
The key is that Clarno is becoming an offensive threat. If you look at his first three seasons, he was a big strikeout guy. His freshman season he struck out 30% of the time and wasn’t much better in Year 2 with a 28% strikeout rate. He cut that rate to 18% last year, and this year, for the first time in his career, he has more walks than strikeouts. In fact, he already has as many walks as he had last year. Clarno is becoming more selective, and we are seeing the results in the hard contact.
But the offense is secondary. Head coach Chris Ramirez feels Clarno has to be one of the top defensive catching prospects in DII. He doesn’t simply have a good arm, but what Ramirez calls an “absolutely electric arm behind the dish.” Heading into this weekend’s action, that arm has thrown out 10 of 14 attempted base stealers. He is a solid receiver as well, allowing just one passed ball, and is good with a pitching staff — the Bears have a 2.96 ERA thus far.
“Coach Risdon has done a great job with Clarno as he transitioned from third base to full time catcher,” Ramirez said of his defense. “He has turned him into one of the top defenders in the country.”