Clarke Schmidt, Luis Severino
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo, Getty Images

The New York Yankees should look no further than one of their top prospects to be their fifth starter early in 2020.

Clarke Schmidt will do great things in a New York Yankees uniform.

Alright, let’s pump the brakes. Schmidt will do great things for the Yankees, but we don’t quite yet know when. The Bronx Bombers’ No. 2 overall prospect recently debuted in spring training to outstanding results.

In a pair of relief appearances, Schmidt hasn’t allowed a run, striking out three and walking one. His fastball has touched 95 mph and his changeup is also strong. His slider has devastating bite and spin for someone just 24 years old.

And yet, Schmidt is barely in the conversation as the Yankees search for a fifth starter. The former South Carolina Gamecock can land the job, but only if he outperforms more than a few teammates.

Process and fair competition aside, the Yankees need to throw caution to the wind and push Schmidt further in the mix. After all, what do they have to lose?

The competition

Initially, Clarke Schmidt wasn’t even a thought for the Opening Day roster. James Paxton’s back surgery just paved a clearer road for lefty Jordan Montgomery, who missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Schmidt would play in spring training games, sure, but his playing time in the season would come at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Unfortunately, fate had other ideas. Luis Severino, whose shoulder trouble cost him all but three starts last year, just had his own Tommy John surgery. Suddenly, the back end of the rotation wasn’t as set as before.

And now, Schmidt is in the middle of fighting for that fifth starter’s job with four other teammates. Those four are Michael King, Luis Cessa, Deivi Garcia, and Jonathan Loaisiga. Each of these players is qualified to be a fifth starter, but all come with question marks.

Let’s start with Cessa, who posted a 4.11 ERA as a mop-up reliever in 2019. He’s more confident on the mound than earlier in his career but has a 4.93 ERA in 19 career starts. His relief ERA isn’t much better at 4.22, so probably best to keep him in the bullpen.

King has strong fastball control and has hit 93 miles per hour on the radar gun, but doesn’t quite have a true putaway pitch. His rise through the minors in 2018 was nice, but he needs to develop his slider and changeup before he’s ready for the majors. He also missed most of last year with elbow trouble, and the Yankees would prefer not to lose another arm to injury.

Similarly, Garcia is just 20 years old and has to develop a consistent third pitch alongside his fastball and curveball. Loaisiga has shown flashes of potential, but often hits a wall after three or four innings of work.

The case for Clarke

That leaves Clarke Schmidt, the neophyte who can easily turn this competition on its head.

Keep in mind that when I call Schmidt a neophyte, I mean it. He was 6-5 with a 3.47 ERA across three minor league levels last year, striking out 102 hitters in 90.2 innings of work.

The catch? Schmidt never pitched above Double-A Trenton. If he were any greener, Kermit the Frog would be his cousin.

And yet, he was 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts with the Thunder.

Long story short, Schmidt should warrant serious consideration if he continues to impress in spring training. The Yankees have nothing to lose.

Think about it. Gerrit Cole is the Opening Day starter, followed by Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Montgomery. Moreover, the Yankees’ schedule early on doesn’t really require a fifth starter until April 9. This gives Schmidt extra time in the minors to get ready, not to mention lets the Yankees manipulate service time.

And in the event that Schmidt proves unprepared for the majors, the Yankees still have options. Loaisiga or someone else can step up. Chad Green could even go back to being used as an opener. Not only that, but Paxton should be ready to play by May if he has no setbacks. Domingo German will also be back from suspension in June.

The point is Clarke Schmidt or whoever wins the fifth starter’s job out of camp probably isn’t going to be in the position for long. If he performs well, then general manager Brian Cashman can explore trading Happ.

After all, what better way to assess someone’s readiness for the majors than actually putting them in a game that counts?

Final thoughts

All in all, it’s more likely Schmidt will begin his 2020 season in Scranton. The Yankees are already dealing with the injury bug again and won’t want to risk Schmidt’s health.

But the truth of the matter is Schmidt carries a lot less risk than any of his competition. Cessa can’t be trusted to be consistent. Loaisiga is better suited as a reliever. Garcia needs more seasoning after getting shelled with Scranton last year. King, ready though he may be, still could use just a little more development.

Schmidt, meanwhile, already had his Tommy John surgery in 2017 and patrols the mound with a veteran ace’s confidence.

Some of the game’s greatest arms didn’t even play in the minor leagues, namely Bob Feller. If Clarke Schmidt continues to dazzle for the Yankees in spring training, is he really going to benefit from spending extended time in the minors?

The man is ready, plain and simple, and should be the team’s fifth starter.

Otherwise, the Yankees could look forward to playing more musical chairs with their pitching until Paxton or German is ready.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.