The Yankees developed a need for starting pitching in spring training, as a pair of starting pitchers — Luis Severino and James Paxton — went down with injuries. While Paxton is expected back, the timetable for his return and the complete absence of Severino in 2020 prompted a competition that was hardly expected when camp first opened.
A host of pitchers have had their names in the mix, but one of the brightest candidates has been Clarke Schmidt. Schmidt has climbed in the organization’s prospect rankings over the past year, becoming one of the team’s best pitching prospects. His spring performance this year gave decent results — giving up two earned runs in seven innings of work while striking out eight — but the sample size in spring is never a solid indicator of future success.
What was impressive about Schmidt’s spring was the delivery of his pitches. Schmidt was originally a four-pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball with a slider, curveball and changeup to compliment. All of his pitches were considered plus-pitches, but he dropped the slider in 2019 to focus on his curveball and got great results from the move. Schmidt’s curveball has been filthy in spring, as Andrés noted in an article over a week ago.
Schmidt has impressed for sure, but his path to making the majors out of camp has seemed a tall task. Schmidt is currently not on the 40-man roster, and has never pitched in Triple-A before in his career. These are tall hurdles to overcome, for sure. It’s difficult to project how well a pitching prospect will do after jumping levels of competition, as the Yankees saw when fellow top prospect Deivi Garcia struggled after a promotion to Triple-A Scranton in 2019.
Not only has Schmidt not pitched in Scranton yet, he barely experienced pitching in Double-A Trenton either. Schmidt started only three games for the Thunder — totaling just 19 innings — and has thrown a collective 114 innings in his professional career. Even though the stuff seems to be there, concerns about durability and experience could play a factor.
That’s not to say that it isn’t possible to make the leap with as little experience as Schmidt has near the top of the minors. One of the pitchers that the Yankees will be relying on to start in 2020 went through that transition just a few years ago.
In 2017 Jordan Montgomery converted a standout spring training performance into a spot in the starting rotation, and took off. Montgomery had a longer stay in Trenton than Schmidt — making 19 starts and pitching 102.1 innings — but his time in Scranton only lasted six starts. The stuff he showed in the big-league camp impressed the team enough in a time of need to give him a shot, and he ran with it.
The opportunity is here for Schmidt now in 2020, and he has turned heads so far. It would be understandable to decide that keeping Schmidt consistent in one level this year and focusing on developing endurance by adding innings to his arm is more important in the long run. There’s no guarantee that if the Yankees add him to the roster and throw him a start that he sticks, and it may mess with his actual arrival timing if that occurs. The odds are likely that they don’t take that risk.
The incredible thing that Schmidt has managed to do in his short audition period is make the question viable, however. As sound as the logic is to hold him in the minors for one more year, it isn’t a no-brainer. There is a lot that Schmidt could potentially contribute to a win-now team, whether that be as a starter or earning his innings in the bullpen. The Yankees will have a lot of time to consider what moves they want to make as the beginning of the season is unfortunately delayed, and they will likely have to think for a while on what to do with Clarke Schmidt.