At the end of July, PSA’s own Andres Chavez floated the possibility of Clarke Schmidt’s return to the big-league roster in August or September. Fast-forward to September 8th, and that possibility is looking more and more likely. After battling a flexor strain for the majority of the 2021 season, Schmidt’s rehab has only been positive as he ramps back up to a starter’s workload. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs reported that his velocity is basically back where it was pre-flexor strain, with his fastball coming in at 92-95 and curveball at 82-84. Longenhagen also mentioned that the Yankees have been shuffling upper-level rotations around, foreshadowing a potential appearance from Schmidt.
Depending on where you look, the Yankee right-hander is still a top-10 prospect in the system. He is certainly higher on the depth chart than the struggling Deivi García, but probably just below Luis Gil, given the latter’s short track record of success with the Yankees in August. That being said, more opportunities are immediately available in the form of multi-inning relief, piggyback starter, or a typical relief role.
It is obvious that the Yankees view Schmidt as a starter in the long-term. He worked up to 80 pitches in his most recent start at Triple-A Scranton, where he threw 4.1 innings with six strikeouts, giving up two earned runs. In his previous outing, the line looked similar at 4.1 innings, five strikeouts, and one earned run. He’s been effective thus far. With the capacity of 80 pitches and ability to get 10-15 outs, the Yankees have themselves a viable option down the stretch in Schmidt.
Coming off a long weekend when extensive bullpen work led to Andrew Heaney and Brooks Kriske dropping eggs in higher-leverage scenarios, the likelihood we see Schmidt in the near-future is increasing. Kriske’s clearly at the end of the depth chart, but the team cannot afford wasted innings from Heaney anymore. He’s become a liability every time he is on the mound. While the Yankees playoff odds currently stand at 82.6 percent, they cannot willingly give away games to bad teams because Heaney can’t get outs.
Schmidt has an above-average fastball and a high-end, knee-buckling curveball that could both play up out of the pen, even if he and the team have starter aspirations in the long-term. He could serve as the piggyback for Corey Kluber and replace Heaney immediately. I know Heaney has followed Kluber his last two times out because he offers a different look in terms of arm slot and stuff, but my hunch tells me that the Yankees should prefer a better pitcher, instead of just putting somebody out there because he is a lefty who fires from over-the-top.
Schmidt threw 4.1 innings on September 5th; that same day, Heaney suffered a loss against the Orioles, blowing a three-run lead while recording just one out. It’s all lined up. The lack of separation between the Yankees and Red Sox makes this move even more urgent.
Furthermore, Schmidt’s stuff and confidence looked fantastic in the aforementioned August 31st start, too. When you have a breaking ball as good as Schmidt’s, you’re going to have a lot of these K-struts:
Clarke Schmidt with strikeout No. 4 in three innings. pic.twitter.com/CzWjJICGmf— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) August 31, 2021
Even with only 15 innings at Triple-A, his confidence is there. His swinging strike rate in Scranton currently sits at 12.1 percent. Obviously, we cannot expect this figure to perfectly translate to the big leagues, but the other pitchers in that range are all big names. Simply put, Schmidt misses bats. He always has and always will.
With Jonathan Loáisiga out for the foreseeable future and Heaney mightily struggling, the Yankees need another bullpen arm that can get through a lineup at least once. Relievers like Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, and Lucas Luetge have been reliable, but they won’t be able to go multiple innings every time out there (even Peralta’s faded a bit recently with the excessive work). Schmidt is already stretched out and pitching effectively. He deserves to get a shot at some innings down the stretch as the Yankees look to secure a playoff spot.