Clarke Schmidt was in the middle of a stellar junior year for South Carolina when he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Just 40 days after undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 3, he was a first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. The Yankees selected the 6-1 righthander with the 16th overall pick on June 12 and signed him for a below-slot bonus of $2.184 million on Saturday. The slot value for the pick was $3.458 million.
“For me, it was good just taking it day-by-day and seeing what was going to happen,” Schmidt said Tuesday on a conference call. “I knew it was going to affect it a little bit, but I didn’t know what the final outcome would be. Anyone would say the draft is so unpredictable so anything could happen.”
Schmidt said he and the Yankees have not discussed a timetable for his return yet, though doctors initially told him he could begin throwing around the three-month post-surgery mark.
“Right now it’s a lot of mobility work and easing back into it,” he said. “The progressions have come quickly, so I can tell everything’s going well so far.”
Schmidt tore his UCL on April 20. Through 60 1⁄3 innings over nine starts, he was 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA, 70 strikeouts and 18 walks (3.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio). He went 9-5 with a 3.40 ERA as a sophomore and struck out 129 and walked 27 over 111 1⁄3 innings for a 4.8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I have a lot of sinking action on my fastball, so to be able to pitch off a sinker and get a lot of ground balls, with a good slider, I can get good chases out of the zone,” he said. “That’s always been my go-to, not walking a lot of guys and not giving up a lot of free passes.”
The Georgia native, who said he modeled his approach after former Braves righthander Tim Hudson, knows Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery. Though the two did not overlap at South Carolina — Montgomery was drafted in 2014, the spring before Schmidt joined the Gamecocks — they have worked out together during the offseason.
When Montgomery made the Yankees’ rotation out of spring training, Schmidt sent a congratulatory text.
“I reached out to him and gave him my congratulations,” Schmidt said, “and it ended up coming full circle where he reached out to me after I got drafted, which was pretty neat.”
Also neat to him: Getting drafted in the first round by the Yankees, despite the long recovery road ahead.
“I wouldn’t say surprised,” Schmidt said of his 16th overall selection. “More so I was just happy and blessed. To be taken by such a wonderful franchise and a historic franchise is a blessing.”