PinstripesPlus.com: Tell us what it feels like to be selected by the New York Yankees.
Clarke Schmidt: Obviously there’s a lot of emotions. It’s a crazy feeling. It’s kind of hard to describe. Once you hear your name called it’s like a weight has been taken off your shoulders, to realize that this team is giving you an opportunity and it’s on to the next step, the next step in the process. The first step is making an impact and the next step is making it to the [big] league, and helping the organization out. That’s the main thing an for them to give me this opportunity it’s a blessing.
PinstripesPlus.com: It’s been kind of a weird year for you after having Tommy John surgery earlier this year and now getting drafted by the Yankees. Go back to the Tommy John surgery though — what was going through your mind when you first learned you need Tommy John surgery?
Schmidt: Obviously it was tough. It caught me off-guard. At first I didn’t really think I would need it. For it to be a UCL tear, obviously that was disappointing. You’ve got to take it in stride though and roll with the punches. I was in the midst of what was probably the best year of my career and for that to happen is obviously a blow but you’ve got to keep your head on your shoulders, keep moving forward, and I kind of took it in stride. I understood the position I was in so I was still very blessed to be in my position so that helped me keep a good perspective through it all.
PinstripesPlus.com: So did it make it doubly-sweet that you were picked by the Yankees?
Schmidt: Yeah that was kind of the cherry on top right there. To be able to cap off that season right there, to be picked by the Yankees in the first round, was a blessing right there. I’ve got to thank the Yankees for giving me this opportunity.
PinstripesPlus.com: Were you surprised it was the Yankees that selected you? Had you and the Yankees talked much before the draft?
Schmidt: Obviously the drafts themselves are so unpredictable. There are so many factors that go into it. To be honest I didn’t know they liked me as much as they did but there was talk there like ‘hey, if a few things happen here and there then we might take a shot on you’ or something like that. Those were the rumblings and the rumors that I was hearing. But you really don’t anything that’s happening on draft night. I didn’t know what to expect. Right around where the Royals picked at 14th I think that’s where I got a text saying ‘congratulations, we’re going to take you’ and that was just the greatest feeling ever, especially being with your loved ones. I had a draft party with my family and friends, and to be there with your close ones, all the people that helped you get to this point and to be able to celebrate with them is so special.
PinstripesPlus.com: Do you have any idea what the Yankees’ organization or farm system is like? I mean, the Yankees are no strangers in recent years to taking University of South Carolina players it seems.
Schmidt: There are a lot of Gamecocks that are in the organization. Taylor Widener I’m close with and he’s down in Tampa. And Dom Thompson-Williams — I’m not sure where he is right now — but I’m close with him too. So there’s a lot of guys I talk to a good bit so I’ve learned a little bit. I obviously don’t know a ton but I’m learning a good bit about the organization. The first thing you think about when you think about baseball is the Yankees though so they’re a first-class organization and everything they do is first-class. It’s great to be picked by them.
PinstripesPlus.com: Let’s go pre-surgery — what type of pitches do you throw and at what speeds? Give us a scouting report please – what are your strengths and what do you need to work on the most?
Schmidt: Well before the surgery, like my last three or four starts, that was probably the best stuff I was having all year. Typically I’d sit 93-97 mph on the fastball. There were a few outings where I’d hit 98 mph and I throw both a four-seam and a two-seam. I kind of have two different sliders. I’ll throw one earlier in the count that I can throw for strikes but I don’t throw it as hard but typically my slider is anywhere from 82-85 mph. I have a curveball too that is 80-82 mph and then the changeup that is 86-89 mph, and it’s kind of like a splitter action. It’s a hard breaking changeup. My strength, when I go out there I like being the guy who pounds the zone and a strike-thrower. Growing up I was always a pitch-ability guy so when I put on all of the velocity it carried over. I like to be a guy who can throw four pitches in the zone at all times. That’s something that helped me get to the point where I am today. To be able to throw four pitches in the zone is the biggest thing. I get a good amount of swings and misses so that’s helped me get to this point. My biggest weakness would have to be my changeup is still developing. That’s something I didn’t throw a lot last year and I threw it a ton this year, and I was getting a lot of swings and misses on it and it was coming along great so that’ll be key for me.
PinstripesPlus.com: Seeing that you’re from Atlanta I think I already know these answers but did you have a favorite team growing up or a favorite player?
Schmidt: Being from Atlanta and growing up here my whole life it was definitely the Braves and I grew up a big Chipper Jones fan like every other kid from Atlanta. I’d be murdered if I said anything else.
PinstripesPlus.com: Who would you compare your stuff to at the Major League level so Yankees’ fans can get an idea of what you’re like on the mound? And why?
Schmidt: Two people I’ve always been comped to are Zack Greinke and Tim Hudson. They’re both strike-throwers, they’re both competitive guys. I like to pitch with a chip on my shoulder and they pitch with a chip on their shoulder. They both pound the zone and they both have sinking fastballs and sharp sliders, and that’s kind of my M.O., and they’ve got good curveballs and changeups. They’re four or five-pitch guys with pitch-ability who can throw whatever they want to and that’s been my M.O. throughout college.
PinstripesPlus.com: Are you familiar with current Yankee farmhand pitcher James Kaprielian at all?
Schmidt: Obviously I know his story and I know his names. I haven’t been in touch with him but I do know his story, yes.
PinstripesPlus.com: The reason I ask is because I get the sense there are a lot of similarities between you two — extensive repertoire, innate strike-throwers, big makeup guys, etc, etc. Has anyone told you that you remind them of Kaprielian?
Schmidt: I’ve watched film on him before. The mechanics are obviously not similar but the stuff and the approach, I can definitely see what you’re saying.
PinstripesPlus.com: What would you say is your best moment in baseball and why?
Schmidt: Probably to this day it was making it to Super Regionals my sophomore year playing at home. There were some unbelievable crowds and the atmosphere was special. Pitching in something like that was so much fun.
PinstripesPlus.com: Are you looking to sign quickly and get your professional career started right away?
Schmidt: Obviously with all the fun I had with the draft and how exciting and celebratory it was I haven’t been able to sit down yet and talk about all of that stuff. Right now I’m just enjoying the moment and will have to figure out the contract stuff, and see what happens with that. I’m excited though, it’s going to be fun. I can’t wait to see what the future has.
PinstripesPlus.com: Have the Yankees talked to you about when you’re going down to Tampa?
Schmidt: None of that has been talked through yet. It’s still in the very early stages.
PinstripesPlus.com: You know you’re in an a-typical situation in that not many draft picks get selected shortly after having Tommy John surgery. Is there any sort of allure to signing with the Yankees now knowing that they have extensive experience handling pitchers rehabbing their way back, including the likes of the aforementioned James Kaprielian? Do you feel like you’d be in good hands signing with the Yankees in your particular situation?
Schmidt: Yeah that’s the most comforting thing. Going into the draft process my number one thing was going to an organization that was going to treat me right and understand the Tommy John process. Obviously everyone goes through it but each organization has their own way of handling it and the feedback I’ve gotten from the Yankees and the way they handle things, and the way they handle Tommy John guys, it’s special. To know that I’m in comforting hands it’s such a blessing for God to lead me to this path. It’s amazing, I can’t wait to see what the future holds and I’ve especially got to say thanks to the Yankees for giving me this opportunity. Knowing they’re going to invest in a guy and treat him right, keep him healthy and get him back to 100 percent is special.
PinstripesPlus.com: Do you think the pressures of pitching in New York might be a problem?
Schmidt: No, not at all. I’ve always — if you ask anyone who’s grown up with me, I’ve always been that big-game pitcher type of kid. I love pitching in front of big crowds. I like to pitch with my back against the wall. There’s been a lot of big games throughout my career, must-win games in front of away crowds or big home crowds and those are my favorite moments. Growing up I’ve always loved pressure situations and it’s something I’ve grown close to. I love to be in that moment and that’s something I’ve always had. I actually can’t wait to be in that atmosphere and to be a part of it.
PinstripesPlus.com: It’s no secret now with the exploits of Gary Sanchez, the Aaron Judge fever sweeping the baseball landscape, the emergence of Luis Severino on the mound, the eventual return of Greg Bird to the lineup, and many other factors that the Yankees are in the midst of building this young player movement in the hopes of building another core dynasty. How exciting is to now be viewed as perhaps joining this group in the not so distant future and looked to by the Yankees as eventually being a part of this young core?
Schmidt: To be a part of that is so amazing, to be even considered to be a part of that. You see what these guys are doing day in and day out. Aaron Judge is probably hitting 700 home runs this year and with Gary Sanchez [too], it’s exciting to see what these guys are doing. It’s a cool foundation that they’re laying and this is just the beginning for these guys because they’re all still so young. They also have the older experience and the older leadership. That mixing with the young talent is special. That’s a good combination for success and you’re seeing it now with the way they’re playing. To be a part of that, to even be considered potentially a part of that, it’s special and hopefully I can contribute in a major way, and help the Yankees win a World Series. That’s my main goal.