Clarke Schmidt: Fast track to the Bronx is in the realm of possibility

It’s extremely rare for a player to make his major league debut just three years after being drafted.

For New York Yankees pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt, making it to the Bronx in 2020 is within the realm of possibility.

Schmidt went from swingman to team ace to one of the best pitchers in the nation in his three years with the University of South Carolina, even when factoring in his junior and final collegiate season being cut short due to Tommy John surgery. His 1.34 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in nine starts during his injury-shortened final year resulted in being selected 16th overall by the Yankees in the 2017 MLB Draft.

The organization further showed their faith in their newest Baby Bomber when they awarded him a $2,184,300 signing bonus; while it was well below the nearly $3.5 million slotted value for the position, it was only due to injury considerations.

Schmidt, as expected, sat out the entirety of 2017 as he watched the Yankees go from overpriced veterans to a full-blown youth movement.

As the calendar turned to 2018, it was finally time for Schmidt to prove his worth. The Georgia native did just that in his debut campaign, all the while continuing his development into a mature thrower possessing a deep arsenal, something he was praised for while at South Carolina. Schmidt pitched in eight games (seven starts) in both rookie and Low-A ball, showcasing his elite abilities to garner strikeouts (30 strikeouts in just 23.1 frames) and limit base runners (0.94 WHIP), despite dealing with an oblique strain.

Schmidt’s continued to rise on prospect rankings. He went from 10th in 2017 from MLB Pipeline, to sixth in 2018, to fifth in 2019.

So too did his rise through the system.

Schmidt opened the season with the Tampa Tarpons after another stint in the Gulf Coast League. The right-hander saw some bumps in the road in High-A ball, with both walks and hits rising while seeing a drop in punch outs. Despite the apparent struggles, he maintained his status as a top prospect, as he was promoted to Double-A in the mid-August.

Speak to any scout. They’ll tell you Double-A is the truest test of minor league competition.

Schmidt had no problem with the increased pressure and heightened expectations.

He made just three regular season starts with the Thunder, so the sample size is small. But Schmidt looked every bit the next young hurler to make his way through the Yankees organization: he went 2-0 with a 2.01 FIP, .200 OBA and averaged nine strikeouts, six hits and less than one walk per nine innings. Those numbers include an August 19 start in Arm & Hammer Park where he pitched 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball, allowing two hits and no walks while generating nine strikeouts. He also pitched in two postseason outings where he combined for a sub-1.00 ERA (0.84).

There will be many curious eyes on Schmidt in Spring Training, even though prospects Deivi Garcia and Mike King, along with Jordan Montgomery, Luis Cessa and Jonathan Loaisiga, were the only names mentioned by Yankees GM Brian Cashman as fill-ins for the injured James Paxton.

Schmidt has the necessary tools to generate ground ball outs, something that always works well in the comfy confides of Yankee Stadium. He’s also equally as effective against right-handed hitters (.228 OBA, .623 oOPS) as he is against left-handed hitters (.238 OBA, .613 oOPS).

His repertoire is deep. Schmidt employs a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball, changeup, curveball and slider. His fastball touched 96 miles per hour and it features strong sinking action resulting in 52% ground ball percentage in 2019. Both his slider and curveball have shown serious potential despite being works in progress. His changeup has promise, too.

“It’s one thing for a pitcher to use a bunch of different pitches in the minors as a test,” said one longtime scout. “It’s another thing for a bunch of different pitches to be major league ready. I think all of [Schmidt’s] pitches can be used at the big league level.”

Schmidt is in camp with the Yankees right now, so the organization will get their best test to date of his progress against the highest level of competition. A lot of things – probably too many things – will have to fall in place to break camp wearing pinstripes.

But, at some point in 2020, Schmidt’s first taste of The Show is possible.

Even he thinks so.

“The No. 1 goal for me this year is to be in the big leagues,” Schmidt told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. “I want to show these guys that I can get significant outs at the Major League level. I’ve always held myself in very high regard and I’ve always been a very confident kid. I know that I can go up there and I can help this team, whether it may be a playoff push or whatever it may be. I want to open the eyes that I need to open.”