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Clarke Schmidt and the Yankees’ player development staff need to step up in 2021

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The talented right-hander may be needed in the rotation sooner rather than later, and the Yankees need him to develop quickly.

Miami Marlins v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

As things stand right now, the New York Yankees will likely rely on young, controllable pitching in the 2021 season and perhaps beyond. They handed the big dollars to Gerrit Cole last offseason, but chances are that they don’t want to surpass a specific number when it comes to next year’s payroll, and that they won’t chase the big fish in free agency, namely Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman.

The problem is that they have three starters hitting free agency after the World Series is over: James Paxton, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka. It’s possible, if not likely, that the Yankees opt to re-sign the Big Maple or Tanaka, but there is a chance that they don’t add any other high-profile names via free agency or trades.

That would mean that the young guns would be needed to provide pitching depth. Deivi DeiviGarcía, who made his MLB debut in 2020, is one of them, and other homegrown hurlers such as Luis Severino, Domingo Germán and Jordan Montgomery are expected to contribute sooner or later.

But a club can’t go into a season with just five or six starters. Not in today’s game. And that’s precisely why the Yankeed need Clarke Schmidt to take a step forward in 2021 and cement himself as a quality option for the rotation.

Basically, if the Yankees don’t make any moves to improve the rotation (or at least bring back one of their own free agents) they will count on Schmidt to start games sooner rather than later. They might need him to be, in 2021, what Garcia was in 2020: a talented young pitcher that steps in ready to retire major leaguers without too much time to adjust.

That may be too much to ask from Schmidt at the start of next season, but in the summer or in the fall, the Yankees could be in a position in which they need him to perform. That means he will have to make a developmental leap over the next several months, and we don’t even know if there will be a minor league season next year.

Does Schmidt have what it takes?

At first glance, Schmidt is a very talented right-hander. He sits in the mid-90s with his heater, and he throws two distinct kinds of fastballs: a four-seamer, and a sinker. His best pitch, however, is a power curveball that can miss bats in any count. He complements his arsenal with a developing changeup.

Schmidt already made his major league debut, but in a swingman capacity. In three games (one start) he pitched 6.1 frames and allowed five runs. He struck out seven batters but walked five and hit two, showing some wildness.

Just to be able to jump from making three Double-A starts in 2019 (19.0 innings, with a shiny 2.37 ERA) to pitch in the majors was a success for Schmidt in 2020. However, the biggest test will come in 2021, when he has an extended look at the high minors and, potentially, the bigs as a starter.

Getting through a major league lineup two or three times is a big thing to ask from a pitcher with only 25.1 innings at Double-A or above. But the Yankees will have to work to have him ready for when the time comes. Schmidt is one of those pitchers who needs a minor league season the most. Dominating Double-A or Triple-A can give him the tools to succeed at the major league level, and a confidence injection.

But if there is no minor league season (an uncertainty given the current COVID-19 outlook) the Yankees’ player development staff will have to come up with creative ways to foster Schmidt’s development.

The process could start this offseason by assigning him to a winter league, if the Yankees find the right match. Constant communication via Zoom, a personal trainer or instructor, a detailed improvement plan, feeding him theoretical concepts about pitch movement and spin; and, ideally, the opportunity to face live hitters, could be useful tools to help him grow. These are just ideas from a writer, though. The Yankees, of course, will hopefully have an exact plan for how to get Schmidt prepared for a larger 2021 role.

One way or another, if the organization doesn’t bring a high-profile pitching addition or two, they will need Schmidt sooner or later. They better have him ready, or else their pitching depth will look that much thinner when the chips are down at the end of the year.