There’s a certain amount of pressure that comes with being selected in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft right out of high school.
Whether it’s trying to sign right away or heading off to college to further your education, there’s a sense of risk with every move.
But in chatting with St. Albert’s Jackson Wark, you get the sense that he’s perfectly fine with letting the cards fall where they may, as his dream was to play Division 1 college baseball. While he is ranked as one of the top Canadian talents eligible for this summer’s MLB Draft, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound senior is more worried about his success in post-secondary school with the Saint Louis University Billikens than he is about when he gets selected in the draft.
Recently, the 21-year-old took some time to chat with Alberta Dugout Stories. Here’s what he had to say in that podcast.
Q: Let’s talk about how you got into baseball in the first place. This is a province that isn’t exactly well-known for baseball because it’s all hockey and football, yet here you are, succeeding at baseball. What got you started?
A: I guess my dad. He’s a big sports fan in general and I think he really likes baseball. He would always force me to go to camps when I was really young. And to be honest, I didn’t like it at first. That’s not to say I don’t love it now, but he is the one who stuck me with it. I wasn’t really the most athletic kid growing up. I was pretty lanky, long and uncoordinated, but I could throw a baseball and wasn’t that great at much else so I ended up getting into it.
Q: When did you realize you were pretty good at this game?
A: I can’t remember what age but I was still playing house league and other people had started playing AA and AAA baseball and going to Baseball Alberta and stuff. I made some A-level team in one of the house leagues and the coach decided he wanted to give me a shot. I was kind of like, “well somebody else thinks I’m good, so I guess I might be.” From there I tried out for AA and then next year tried out for AAA. So I guess it was just before junior high.
— Allan Wark (@AllanWark) May 26, 2018
Q: Was pitching always the way you wanted to go or did you have aspirations elsewhere?
A: I played outfield up until probably grade 11 and it was fun. I think I have more fun pitching because I had more success at it, so I definitely enjoyed it more.
Q: It probably doesn’t hurt to have that lanky build either. Did you always use that to your advantage or were you a late growth-spurt guy?
A: I’ve always been tall. It’s been a kind of steady growth. So yeah, it felt easy for me to fit into that pitcher stereotype, I guess, and kind of use that, for sure.
Q: For those who have never seen you pitch before, what do you lean on as maybe some of your best pitches or the tactics you use on the hill?
A: I’m definitely a heavy slider guy. Some people call it like a slurve or something. It’s not totally what you typically see for a slider but it has a lot of movement and I can get it up to like 84 miles an hour. I really take a lot of pride in that pitch. I think if I need to beat someone, that’s what I’m going to beat them with.
— Absolute Human Performance (@AbsoluteHPerf) January 5, 2019
Q: Obviously you have beaten a few hitters thus far. When you look back on the last few years worth of success you have had, like being a part of Baseball Canada’s Junior National program and those kinds of things leading into college ball, what has been the key to success for you?
A: I really do lean on the slider. It’s one of those things where I’m a big lanky guy but I know that can have its own problems. The fastball command can be, you know, here or there. But somehow, I’ve always been able to get the slider in over the plate if I need to while nothing else is. I mean, yeah, just trying to go after guys and not over-complicate it.
Q: Talk about the work ethic that’s involved in being able to head up the college ranks, because it’s not that easy to walk on and be a big contributing part of a program like you have been.
A: Yeah, I was with the Prospects Academy and trained a lot with Taylor Burns in high school. He’s now with Absolute Human Performance. I may not have known it at the time, but in high school I was doing a lot of the things that you would normally do in college. It’s a lot like college before going to college. We did weights all the time and Taylor really pushed us and we played in the fall and spring and traveled a lot. It’s a big commitment for sure but it’s nice if you can get ahead of it, I guess.
READ MORE: 1 Thru 9: Prospects Baseball Academy
Q: When it comes to the success you have had over the last couple of years in college, what does it mean to you to be able to continue playing as well as you have at that level?
A: I mean, it’s the dream. I always wanted to play Division 1 baseball and not just that, I wanted to start. You know, to be able to do that, it’s pretty amazing.
— Billiken Baseball (@SLUBaseball) December 16, 2018
Q: Is it a difficult transition to make, given that you are an Alberta kid going to the U.S., where there are a million kids to pick from for college and yet here you are, succeeding amongst the supposed big fish in the big pond?
A: For sure. I think with Canadian kids, a lot of the time, there’s not quite as many of us but we’re definitely undervalued. And so, you kind of have a bit of a chip on your shoulder. You want to go in there and prove yourself because everybody thinks that you’re just some Canadian and “how good can you be?” But I think it also plays a little to your advantage because you kind of come out of nowhere. Some people might say, “oh, he’s from Canada or wherever,” and you come out and you show your stuff and people are impressed because you’re more than they expected.
Q: One of the things I’ve heard too is that after a while, that perception or that joke kind of disappears once you show what you can do on the field.
A: I think that’s probably right to some extent. I mean, yeah, people get used to it. People realize that Canadians and Americans are basically the same, minus a few television shows and movies, types of food or some things like that.
Q: What was that transition like for you on a personal level, going from small town Alberta to a Division 1 school in the States?
A: Well, definitely going from St. Albert to St. Louis is one of the more radical transitions I could have made. You know, whether it’s just the fact that you’re in a different city than what Edmonton looks like or the different composition of the people and the environment and everything. It’s definitely a great way to get some perspective and learn a lot more. I mean, it’s definitely interesting to learn more about a country that you hear so much about or that maybe you didn’t understand before. You start to understand it because you meet the people and you see those circumstances and things like that. Yeah, Saint Louis University isn’t a huge school but it’s definitely cool because you start meeting people from all over the place. We have guys on the team from Chicago, New York, Florida, Texas, California and Bermuda. It’s definitely a lot of fun and a lot of interesting experiences.
Q: Speaking of guys that are going to be on your roster this coming year, you have another Alberta kid coming up in Tauren Langley. He will be able to give you a little taste of home perhaps. Have you talked to Tauren at all about that?
A: Yeah, I actually sort of live with Tauren. We live in the same apartment but I spend a lot of time with my girlfriend. But we hang out sometimes and I played with him for a year in high school. I didn’t know him that well at the time. Yeah, it’s definitely fun. You get to chat about all the things that you say and that kind of thing. We’re both from similar environments baseball-wise and he’s done really well. So yeah, it’s cool.
Wow! 3 of the top 5 are from Alberta (@CesarV_24, @claytonkeyes02 & @adaaam_15). 2 others crack the top 16 (@JacksonWark & @aydenmak0312). Could be a banner draft for our province! #baseball https://t.co/w1B1U3uHKs
— ABDugoutStories (@ABDugoutStories) September 29, 2018
Q: What does it mean to you to be ranked amongst some of the best Canadian prospects eligible for the 2019 MLB Draft? Canadian Baseball Network has its list out and your name is right there.
A: It feels good. Obviously it’s one of those things that I guess you try to get. I don’t know, I just try to be the best I can and try to just focus on winning for the team. Last year, I thought that was the most fun part is where you get whatever honours you get, but the best thing is just being in the sixth or seventh inning and getting out of a jam or something so that your team can hold on and win. That’s how I want to get onto a list like that is just winning games.
Q: When it comes to 2019 and setting your sights forward, what do you hope to accomplished? Is it getting noticed at the MLB level?
A: Oh yeah, I mean definitely. But it’s interesting. You spend most of your baseball career hearing about how seniors sign during their senior year and how you just want to get drafted junior year and all that stuff. I mean, I obviously want to catch an eye or something. But I think if I can just lead my team and win games, that’s enough. I don’t think I’ve gone deeper than the seventh inning in my career. I want to go deeper than seven, I want to throw eight innings or nine innings, whatever it takes to win more games. I want to be more consistent. And if that means that somebody is more interested then that’s how I want it to go. And if that doesn’t, then you know, that’s kind of that I think.
Q: And that’s the reason I ask that question is because you were a 30th round pick of the New York Mets back in 2015. Did that change your perspective on things as you head into your senior year of college?
A: Yeah, I was picked in high school and, like I said, my dream was to play college baseball and that’s still my dream. I think it’s important and so, it’s like I don’t want to let worrying about the draft get in the way of me enjoying the season, enjoying being with my team and winning. I think those are the kinds of things that good baseball players should do. That’s what I’m going to do and if people don’t think I’m a good enough baseball player despite doing that, then there’s nothing I can do to control that.
Q: One final question for you. When you look back on things and you look ahead to things, what or who serves as inspiration for you?
A: Well, of course, my father as he’s always pushed me and inspired me. But I’ve had some great coaches along the way as well. I can’t go without thanking Taylor Burns. He came into my career by accident kind of. He was injured and he was here and he had coached us and then ended up training me and he still trains me when I come home. I think he was a guy that was a pretty fierce competitor. I also had a lot of support playing with guys like Mike Soroka. I mean, he’s a pretty amazing player. And he’s a pretty good example of a guy from Canada who wants to be a pro baseball player who is humble and works really hard. He also seems to have a lot of fun and that’s the biggest thing. I think baseball is the best when you have a lot of fun and he looks like he does.