Part 2 in a series on the Yankees’ top prospects.
Damon Oppenheimer knew Clarke Schmidt’s stuff while pitching for the University of South Carolina was good enough to take the right-hander with the 16th pick in the 2017 draft.
There was something else Schmidt possessed that Oppenheimer understood would get him through the trying times that awaited the pitcher: Tommy John surgery before he pitched a professional game.
“His makeup component topped it off. When you take a guy [with that surgery] you better believe what you see,” said Oppenheimer, the head of the Yankees’ amateur scouting department. “If a player doesn’t have that component … you are going down a road with a very long process.”
Schmidt, 24, was invited to big-league camp this year after pitching at three minor league levels last season — Gulf Coast League (Rookie), Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
Since he had pitched in 27 minor league games (25 starts) in 2018 and 2019, Schmidt wasn’t hyped as much as Deivi Garcia, a right-hander who reached Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season as a 20-year-old and had appeared in 65 minor league games (57 starts) since signing in 2015 as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic.
Some voices within the Yankees’ organization believed Schmidt might develop into an arm that could have helped at the big-league level at some point had a normal season been held. Of course, that isn’t going to happen because of the coronavirus pandemic. With minor league games likely not to be held this year, what that means to Schmidt’s development remains to be seen.
However, more than one scout in spring training believed Schmidt had nudged ahead of Garcia among Yankees pitching prospects.
“Bigger and more durable body,” a scout said Friday of the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Schmidt compared to the 5-9, 163-pound Garcia. “Their stuff is similar, above average.”
Another scout raved about Schmidt after a spring training start against the Rays in late February.
“It was his [second] big-league game and it’s spring training, but when you can throw the breaking ball behind in the count for strikes, you have a chance to be really good,” the scout said of Schmidt, who worked two scoreless innings, allowed two hits, struck out three and didn’t issue a walk. “You can see him as a keeper.”
Whether there is a season or not, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka will be eligible for free agency this coming winter which means there could be two openings in the Yankees’ rotation. Without a minor league season for Schmidt to reach Triple-A and without being jumped to the big leagues, he would find himself in a similar situation to this past spring training in 2021 but a year older.
“That is tough to say. He doesn’t have a lot of experience yet as a professional pitcher,” manager Aaron Boone said when asked in late February how much minor league work Schmidt would require before getting into position for a jump to the majors. “He is clearly advanced for that lack of experience. He has got a lot of the intangible things as well as the raw stuff to move quickly.”
If a season gets off the ground the rosters will likely expand from 26 to 30. With pitchers having dealt with a shortened spring training, teams will carry more arms to not tax their starters.
Could Schmidt be among the extra arms? If not, he would likely be part of a group of pitchers/players who would work out in order to be ready if needed in the big leagues.