Losing ace Clarke Schmidt for the season with a right elbow injury hurts the South Carolina pitching rotation, but there is a chance it will not hurt Schmidt much as far as the MLB draft is concerned.
Draft experts expect Schmidt to slip slightly from his previous first-round projection, but there is still a chance he will be selected in the first couple of rounds in June, according to Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball and Michael Lananna of Baseball America.
Schmidt will undergo Tommy John surgery at a date to be determined.
“It doesn’t help it, obviously, but it’s not necessarily going to torpedo it either,” Fitt said. “It used to be if you had that surgery it would really hurt you. Now you see guys coming back, and in a lot of cases, stronger than ever. It’s almost a common place procedure now.”
Fitt sees similarities between Schmidt’s situation and that of former UNLV pitcher Erick Fedde.
Fedde was taken No. 18 overall by the Nationals in the 2014 draft, just a couple of days after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
“Tommy John is not a death knell to your draft stock,” Fitt said. “(Schmidt) was a second half of first rounder, in the 15 to 30 range somewhere. He could still go in that range somewhere. I think it’s probably where he fits. Maybe he slips a little bit to a top 50 or 60 pick.”
Baseball America had Schmidt projected to go No. 15 overall in its latest mock draft last week, and while he is unlikely to be selected that high now, it is not out of the realm of possibility, according to Lananna.
“There’s no doubt that before the injury Schmidt’s stock was on the rise. He was having an exceptional year, and it almost seemed as though he was getting better as the spring progressed,” Lananna said.
“He was getting first-round kind of buzz. After the torn UCL, it’s a little harder to say. There’s recent precedent for teams still drafting pitchers in early rounds despite torn UCLs, just because Tommy John has become almost routine. It has a very high success rate.”
Schmidt ended his season 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings.
The ERA and strikeout numbers are the best on USC’s staff, and he is second in the SEC in ERA.
“Given what Schmidt showed this spring, his track record, his power stuff and his makeup – he’s a high character kind of guy, and that means something – I think he still has a chance to go on Day One or Day Two,” Lananna said. “There’s not as much risk with Tommy John as there used to be.”