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Clarke Schmidt is knocking on the Yankees’ door

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The right-hander could make the leap to the big leagues in 2020.

New York Yankees pitcher Clarke Schmidt throws to batters during spring training Photo by J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday via Getty Images

Leave it to a baseball-starved blogger to try to glean anything meaningful from an instrasquad game.

The Yankees played under the lights at Yankee Stadium on Monday and Tuesday, and while those are hardly representative or worthy of legitimate analysis—innings often went by without a full outfield, infield, or any defenders whatsoever—they did provide something worth talking about. Monday night’s game delivered a reminder that Clarke Schmidt is knocking on the Yankees’ door.

Schmidt, 24, made it look like he didn’t miss a beat during the shutdown. If you recall, the right-hander was the breakout pitcher of the spring. He logged seven innings in Grapefruit League play, allowing two runs while striking out eight batters.

“There is a confidence to him,’’ Yankees manager Aaron Boone told Pete Caldera back in March. “He seems to have a really good understanding at a young age of who he is and what he wants to do.’’

When spring training shut down on March 12, Schmidt still had a locker in big-league camp. By this point, the Yankees had already cut several prospects, which means that Boone and company wanted a longer look at the right-hander. With James Paxton and Luis Severino sidelined, there existed a chance that Schmidt could have pitched his way on to the rotation.

In particular, he could have used one pitch to carry him straight to the majors. It’s this pitch:

GIF courtesy of Lucas Apostoleris

He used that curveball to devastating effect again on Monday night. Poor Gary Sanchez. That pitch looks like it’s coming right down the middle, then it hammers down into the dirt.

MLB Pipeline ranks Schmidt as the Yankees’ number two prospect, saying this about his stuff:

Schmidt has three pitches that grade as plus at their best, and his slider did as well before he scrapped it to focus on his curveball. He uses two- and four-seam fastballs, ranging from 92-97 mph with heavy sink on the former and cut and carry on the latter. His tumbling changeup bottoms out at the plate and his low-80s curve features good depth.

They note that he has no problem throwing strikes, but he doesn’t have pinpoint command.

I spent a while trying to come up with a comp for Schmidt. That’s tough to do for two reasons, 1) there isn’t a ton of information available on pitching prospects, and 2) I don’t have a scouting background.

My gut says a young Sonny Gray. They’re around the same size—Gray is two inches shorter and five pounds lighter—and both wield a knockout breaking ball. Gray doesn’t have an electric fastball like Schmidt, but his mechanics are compact, smooth and clean. Schmidt, meanwhile, has a violent delivery that could leave him prone to arm injuries.

That’s a pretty good fit, but Josh Diemert might have nailed the comp. He suggested Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola. Consider this MLB.com scouting profile on Nola from 2015:

Nola has an effective repertoire that includes a two-seam fastball that sits between 92 and 94 mph, an infrequent four-seam fastball, a very good changeup and a curveball that can be very effective. He mixes and matches well between those pitches. Everything works off his sinking fastball. The pitch results in a good percentage of ground balls, always a great sign for a pitcher.

That sounds like Schmidt, right on the money. And you know what? Nola is a darn good pitcher. He has a career 3.49 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 9.64 K/9 rate. He had an other-worldly 2018, but even if he never replicates that performance, he’s a fantastic number two or three starter. If that’s how Schmidt’s career plays out, then sign me up, especially considering his risky draft status.

The Yankees selected Schmidt 16th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft. At one point, evaluators considered him a lock for a top-ten pick, but the University of South Carolina pitcher underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2017.

At the time of the draft, 33% of PSA community voters gave the selection a C-grade. “Hope I’m wrong, but this was a huge reach and a waste of a high first-round pick,” wrote on commenter. Others drew parallels to Andrew Brackman, a high-upside pitcher the Yankees selected in 2007, knowing he would need Tommy John surgery. Brackman pitched a total of 2.1 innings for the Bombers, having flamed out of baseball by 2013.

Thankfully, Damon Oppenheimer and the Yankees’ scouting department liked what they saw, and now they have a pitcher who’s not only knocking down the door, but who’s thrilled to do so.

“To face pretty much the starting lineup for the Yankees in Yankee Stadium, I was looking at the lineup car this afternoon and I was so excited,” Schmidt told Bryan Hoch after his intrasquad outing. “I was just like, ‘This is awesome.” There’s no better opportunity for me to open guys’ eyes.”

And open eyes he did.

At some point this season, the Yankees will need to tap into the taxi squad for pitching depth. Don’t be surprised if Schmidt gets the call. That is, unless he makes the team outright first.