Spring training is far from over. There are still more rounds of roster cuts coming, but the fact that Clarke Schmidt is still around is one of camp’s positive developments. He’s probably a long shot for the open fifth starter role, but as long as he’s still with the big leaguers, he’ll remain in consideration.
When camp opened, it was a foregone conclusion that Schmidt would be down in Triple-A or Double-A to start the season. Then, we learned that Luis Severino needed Tommy John surgery, which created another opening in the rotation. It’s a deep competition that includes pitchers already on the 40-man like Michael King and Jonathan Loáisiga along with non-roster invitees with major league experience in Chad Bettis and Nick Tropeano. In spite of the many names he’d need to leapfrog, there’s reason to believe that Schmidt is the Yankees’ best option.
Schmidt’s risk-reward profile is enticing
The Yankees won’t be able to replace the production that Severino and Paxton would have offered. But let me ask you this: of all the guys in camp, who do you think has the best chance of coming the closest right now? My money’s on Schmidt.
Unlike guys like King, Bettis, or Tropeano, Schmidt has significant upside. So do other competitors like Loáisiga and Deivi García, of course. That said, there’s a case for Loáisiga fitting better in the bullpen. Meanwhile, Deivi is still just 20 and stumbled a little bit in his first taste of Triple-A. Schmidt may not be as close to the majors (just 19 innings in Double-A), but given his age (24) and apparent poise, would it surprise anyone to see him break out?
Now, I expect the Yankees to roll with King or an opener (Chad Green paired with Jonathan Loaisiga, perhaps). And that’s fine! Before injuries last year, King seemed ready to be a fifth starter already. Moreover, we know how good Green was in the opener role. Yet, neither of these routes are terribly exciting. King has a high floor, but it’s hard to imagine the sinkerballer being much more than a serviceable back-end starter. We know Green was great as an opener last year, but it’d be nice to have him in a bullpen role exclusively. I’d prefer the Yankees avoiding a bullpen day every fifth game in the early going –it’s a marathon, not a sprint, after all.
Schmidt would be so much more fun and the Yankees are well-positioned to roll the dice with him. Even with the team’s myriad of injuries, projections quite easily favor the Yankees in the AL East. Per PECOTA, the Bombers are still roughly nine wins better than the Rays. It’s only a four win difference at FanGraphs, however. Keep in mind that neither of those depth charts account for Schmidt at the moment.
It’s not like the Yankees have to commit to Schmidt all year, obviously. If he bombs his first two starts, they can swiftly option him to the minors. No harm, no foul. Two starts won’t make up the difference between the Yankees and Rays true talent levels. On the flip side, if Schmidt is up to task, the Yankees can create even more separation. Likely more than someone like King could offer.
Service time considerations
Future free agency eligibility should be the last thing on the Yankees mind, especially for Schmidt. He’s 24 years old, meaning he won’t hit the open market until he’s 30, at the earliest. Whether he’s a free agent by 30 or 31 should not matter.
Besides, being with the team on Opening Day doesn’t mean he’s going to be with the team all season. There’s a pretty strong chance he’d get sent down later in the year anyway. Barring any other injuries or setbacks, things could crowd out Schmidt when Paxton and Domingo Germán return.
On the flipside, if Schmidt performs right away and the Yankees want to keep him around all year: great! That’s the best case scenario. Sure, it means free agency for Schmidt after the 2025 season instead of 2026, but again, who cares? The Yankees should try to run out the best team it has now.
Even though Jordan Montgomery was a non-roster invitee in 2017, he made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training that season. Schmidt’s in precisely the same position this year. There was no expectation for Schmidt to actually be in the rotation mix when he was invited to camp, but now he’s fully thrust himself in the conversation. I think the same could be said about Monty in ’17. He seemed ticketed to Triple-A.
Now, there are differences between Schmidt’s situation and Montgomery in 2017. Primarily, Montgomery was a bit more advanced at the time than Schmidt is today. In 2016, Gumby threw more than 100 innings in Double-A before finishing the year with 37 more frames at Triple-A. Meanwhile, Schmidt has only 19 innings in Double-A, total. In other words, the jump from the minors to the bigs was not very dramatic for Montgomery, whereas it would be a big leap for Schmidt.
Despite minor league track record differences, there are a lot of similarities between the two pitchers. Montgomery was 24 that camp, as is Schmidt now. Both were early round college pitcher draftees (both from University of South Carolina, in fact). Both are top prospects with plenty of fans within the organization.
Montgomery pitched well in camp in 2017 (3.20 ERA in 19 2/3 innings). Baseball Reference has a nifty tool to see opponent quality in spring training, but unfortunately, it looks like they wipe prior year spring training stats, so we can’t compare Monty to Schmidt this year. That said, Jordan’s first four appearances that spring all were in relief against primarily minor leaguers before he made two starts to close out camp.
Meanwhile, Schmidt has an OppQual of 6.7, which is slightly below Double-A caliber hitters. He’s thrown seven innings and allowed two runs, recorded eight strikeouts, and walked three. Spring training numbers are never worth taking much meaning from anyway, and unfortunately the same for Schmidt in spite of pitching well. Still, it’s not like Monty really got a shot against big leaguers until later in camp in 2017. Schmidt deserves a similar opportunity.
Merits aside, Schmidt winning the job coming out of camp would be fun. I think we could all use a little fun now, right? To see the 2019 injury bug carry over into 2020 is incredibly irritating. Bringing Schmidt into the fold right away would bring some added excitement to early season action.
I know that having Schmidt start the season in Double-A is the safe move for his development. After all, he’s still building up his workload after the Yankees drafted him in 2017 knowing he had Tommy John surgery rehab ahead. He hardly pitched in 2018 and barely topped 90 innings last year. Perhaps it’s better to follow standard operating procedure here. The Yankees know better than me, a stupid blogger, after all.
Frankly, whether it’s Schmidt or someone else isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. We should see Schmidt in the Bronx at some point before season’s end (he needs to be added to the 40-man before the offseason, anyway). King or some sort of opener/tandem starter should work just fine until Paxton returns. I just yearn for a little more excitement.