The Yankees selected Clarke Schmidt sixteenth overall in the 2017 Draft out of the University of South Carolina. Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly before the draft and missing most of 2018 with an oblique injury, the Yankees and scouts alike are still high on Schmidt’s potential. He started 2019 at High-A Tampa, with positive results. Notwithstanding a stint on the seven-day injured list and subsequent rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Yankees East, Schmidt finished strong with Double-A Trenton.
Schmidt’s main offering is a heavy-sinking fastball that hovers in the mid-90s, occasionally touching 96. He has experienced success at times with a mid-80s slider and a low-80s curveball, as well as his changeup. That being said, his throwing motion and past injury history raise questions about his durability.
2019 Season Statistics:
GCL Yankees East: 8.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 2.79 FIP, 1.080 WHIP, 15.12 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, 1.08 HR/9
High-A Tampa Tarpons: 63.1 IP, 3.84 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 1.311 WHIP, 9.81 K/9, 3.41 BB/9, 0.28 HR/9
Double-A Trenton Thunder: 19 IP, 2.37 ERA, 2.01 FIP, 0.789 WHIP, 9 K/9, 0.47 BB/9, 0.47 HR/9
2020 FanGraphs ZiPS Projections: 18 GS, 80.2 IP, 5.13 ERA, 5.36 FIP, 1.488 WHIP, 7.92 K/9, 3.90 BB/9, 1.67 HR/9
It is unlikely Schmidt will make a meaningful contribution in the majors if at all, as FanGraphs does not even provide a Depth Charts projection for 2020. The ZiPS projections must be taken with a grain of salt, as it is unlikely a player who has never advanced beyond Double-A will start 18 games at the major-league level.
This isn’t to say Schmidt will have un unsuccessful season in the Yankees’ system. He is certainly trending upwards, landing at 51 on Keith Law’s top 100 list and 88 on MLB Pipeline’s list, leap-frogging Deivi Garcia on both accounts. If he continues on the trajectory from last season, he could end up as the most effective starting pitcher for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre by the end of 2020.
Schmidt profiles the most as a starting pitcher at the major league level compared to his peers (including Garcia, Luis Gil, and Albert Abreu). He may not have the strikeout flair of a Garcia, but he exhibits better control of his pitches relative to the young phenom. He has the best four-pitch mix, with the fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup all grading as average or better.
Also encouraging was his instant acclimation to Double-A Trenton, where he tallied only one walk along with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings pitched. His ability to generate groundballs (52.2 GB% in 2019) is arguably his greatest strength, and one that plays to Yankee Stadium. He does have to work on maintaining that trend, as his groundball rate fell and his fly-ball rate rose when making the jump from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton.
The Yankees may have already indicated their plans for Schmidt, as he was not named to the 40-man roster, though did receive a non-roster invitation to spring training. They may need to see him at Triple-A before considering him for a call up, given fellow prospect Garcia’s relative struggles at the level compared to Double-A. However, like Garcia, his meteoric rise through the system last year is an optimistic sign.
Given depth options above him, Schmidt may have to wait another year to make it to the big leagues. The new 28-man September roster will make it even harder for him to break on to the roster. That said, with the injuries already accruing, the Yankees’ pitching situation will be a dynamic one this season.
If the Yankees experience a similar extended injury plight to last season, he could earn himself a cup of coffee in late September. However, the best scenario in 2020 for Schmidt is that he continues his steady progression through the minors, so that he is knocking on the door of a major league roster spot for next season. The Yankees may be calling on him given the contract situations for James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. He may need to be ready to fill those shoes.