Clarke Schmidt could only watch last year as his former South Carolina teammates started their professional baseball careers.
While Schmidt was unable to even pick up a baseball for parts of last summer as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, which cut short his 2017 season at USC, guys like Tyler Johnson, Alex Destino and Wil Crowe were playing in the minor leagues and having success.
“The toughest part for me was the first four months when you can’t pick up a ball … and the fact that you had to watch these games and you see your past college teammates are killing it in the minor leagues. And you’re like, ‘I could be doing this too,’” Schmidt recently told The State. “Or you see somebody get called up in the minor leagues and you know where you could be if you were healthy. That takes a toll on you. But the biggest thing you have to do is block it out and know that the situation you’re in is temporary and you’ll be back where you need to be shortly.”
After rehabbing for more than a year, Schmidt is just about back to where he needs to be.
The Yankees' first-round draft pick in the 2017 MLB draft faced live hitters in May for the first time since being injured last spring. He threw live batting practice sessions at the end of last month after undergoing Tommy John surgery in early May of 2017.
“It’s been a long process to get to this point, so to be able to get back out there in somewhat of a game situation and facing live hitters, it’s feeling really good,” Schmidt said. “I’m just happy to be where I’m at right now and continuing to progress every day.”
Schmidt was in the midst of an All-American type season when he suffered a torn UCL during his final year as a Gamecock. He was 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA in nine starts before suffering the injury.
But that didn’t keep the Yankees from drafting Schmidt in the first round, No. 16 overall last June.
“I was thankful that the Yankees gave me this opportunity and took a shot on me, and they showed that they believed in me and believed in my stuff and my potential. But I wanted to prove to people that they made the right choice. Right when you get drafted you want to be able to go out there and show them what you’ve got and be able to show your stuff,” Schmidt said. “Whenever you can’t do that it’s hard. That put a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to be able to come back better than ever just so I could show these guys what kind of player they got and how good I can be.”
Schmidt does feel that he will be better than ever when he returns to the mound in games. His fastball recently topped out at 96 miles per hour during a live batting practice session. He will now start pitching simulated games before a rehab stint with the Staten Island Yankees — the short-season Single-A affiliate of the New York Yankees.
If everything goes as planned, Schmidt will be playing for the Tampa Tarpons, the Single-A Advanced affiliate of the Yankees, by the end of this season.
“Physically, I feel good. My elbow feels great. It feels stronger than ever ... It really is a process. There’s times when it’s harder than others. Whenever you get this sport taken away from you and you get to do it every day and then it gets taken away from you for a year or longer, it’s tough to stay in the right mental state,” Schmidt said. “There’s days when you just feel like you’re in a never ending cycle doing the same thing every day. Being so competitive, I just wanted to get back out there and face hitters again … Now that I’m past that point and getting to play and getting in games I’m able to show my stuff and how good I can be.”