With injuries plaguing the roster following a rough week, Clarke Schmidt could provide an exciting boost for the sluggish New York Yankees.
It hasn’t been a good week for the Bronx Bombers. They were swept by the rival Tampa Bay Rays in an overall anemic showing. To add insult to injury, the New York Mets had a player test positive for COVID-19, thus canceling this past weekend’s Subway Series.
And to top it all off, the injury bug has cursed the Yankees once again. Zack Britton is out with a strained hamstring. Gleyber Torres is expected to miss a few weeks with hamstring and quad injuries. James Paxton was finally turning things around, but then hit the injured list with an elbow strain.
Now, I mentioned Schmidt at the beginning. What does he have to do with all of this? He’s been at the team’s alternate site in Pennsylvania this whole season and now he should just suddenly get called up to the majors?
Yes, he should. Schmidt is one of the Yankees’ top prospects and his arrival in the majors may provide some much-needed momentum.
A young arm in waiting
It’s obvious the Yankees have had big plans for Schmidt ever since they drafted him. General manager Brian Cashman selected him with the No. 16 pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Schmidt had posted a 3.21 ERA playing college ball at South Carolina and was a former teammate of fellow Yankee Jordan Montgomery.
Here’s the catch: when the Yankees drafted Schmidt, he had just undergone Tommy John surgery two months prior. Unlike most first-round prospects, he would not report to the minor leagues. Why would New York use a first-round pick on a pitcher who just underwent major surgery on his pitching arm?
Well, whatever the reason was, the gamble paid off in the end. Schmidt returned to the mound in 2018 and reached as high as Double-A Trenton the following year. In just two minor league seasons, he posted a 3.39 ERA and struck out 132 batters in 114 innings. Schmidt additionally portrayed impressive control, allowing just 2.7 BB/9.
And strong minor league numbers aside, Schmidt needs to be called to the majors for one reason. During spring training, before the coronavirus pandemic forced MLB to shut down, Schmidt worked with career backup/minor league catcher Erik Kratz. Now 40, Kratz was recently called up to the Yankees to fill in for the injured Kyle Higashioka. When asked about Schmidt and prospect Deivi Garcia, Kratz was blunt in his opinion.
“They’re ready to go. There’s no other way to say it,” Kratz told reporters, including Pete Caldera of Northjersey.com. Now, consider Kratz’s age and 18 years of minor league experience. He’s seen plenty of arms and is practically his generation’s Lawrence “Crash” Davis.
Schmidt may carry no experience above Double-A ball, but given Kratz’s ringing endorsement, Cashman should consider calling him to the show.
A pitching staff in need
Now, consider the Yankees pitching staff. Gerrit Cole is a no-doubter of an ace, but he can only do so much without run support. Masahiro Tanaka and Montgomery are prone to rough outings but have proved generally effective in 2020.
The back end of the rotation, however, leaves something to be desired. Paxton was overcoming his lack of velocity before injuring his elbow, but he won’t throw for two weeks now. Who knows how effective he’ll be when healthy again? J.A. Happ, meanwhile, is completely unpredictable and could be a single bad start away from a demotion to the bullpen.
Could the Yankees fill that void with either an opener or prospect Mike King? Sure, but the bullpen has been heavily taxed already this season and King, though talented, is still learning how to pitch in the majors.
Schmidt, on the other hand, appears ready. He hasn’t pitched a single inning above Double-A but already pairs a mid-90s fastball with a sneaky slider and curveball. Schmidt is also known to incorporate a changeup and can induce plenty of groundballs.
But his skills on the mound aside, Schmidt possesses something rarely seen in young arms so early in their careers: a laser focus on his task that borders on a killer instinct.
Thus, with Paxton not expected back for a while, why not give Schmidt a shot?
All in all, the Yankees know their plan for Schmidt and Cashman won’t call him up until he feels the time is right. The Yankees carry enough depth that one health-related setback to the pitching staff won’t sink them, but it’s hard to balance that with injured bats.
Thus, there is no better time than now for Schmidt to debut. More than a few strong Yankees teams have had young pitching prospects debut to tremendous results. In 1998, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez debuted in place of an injured David Cone and stuck around for six years. Chien-Ming Wang debuted in 2005 to stabilize the back end of the rotation and then was the ace for 2.5 years before injuries derailed him.
This is the exact role Schmidt would fill in 2020. He isn’t going to supplant Cole as the ace of the staff, nor make Tanaka an afterthought. Schmidt is there to do two things: balance the back end of the rotation and boost it accordingly. Just having that one spare trustworthy arm does wonders for a team, like Hernandez in 1998.