June 20, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
It may seem like Clarke Schmidt is living the dream, but the former South Carolina pitcher is focused on proving himself again. After having his junior season with the Gamecocks cut short due to Tommy John surgery, the right-hander was recently the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Yankees, and he has more dreams to fulfill.
"Getting drafted in the first round isn't my only dream," Schmidt said. "My dream is to make it to the big leagues, have a successful career, and to win championships. I'm just ready to get to work. The celebratory stage is starting to fade for me. I'm the type of guy who just wants to get ready and get after it, continue to progress and get healthy, and get back playing. I just want to start pitching again and having fun."
Schmidt was the fifth highest Gamecock ever selected in the MLB Draft and is South Carolina's highest draft pick since Justin Smoak was taken 11th overall by Texas in 2008. He went 4-2 with a 1.34 ERA in nine starts with 70 strikeouts in 60.1 innings pitched before suffering an injury to his right elbow this spring. There were already high expectations for Schmidt after earning third-team All-America honors the year before, but that doesn't make it any less exciting to be picked so high in the draft.
"Initially, it was a weight lifted off my shoulders," Schmidt said. "It was a whirlwind of emotions. It's just a special feeling. The Yankees were high on the radar. I didn't know if they were the number one team that wanted me, but things worked out and they're giving me an opportunity."
While recovery from Tommy John surgery is more commonplace these days, Schmidt is especially thankful that his injury didn't cause the scouts to lose faith in him.
"That's one of the most comforting things; to have an organization willing to invest in you and take you this high when you're injured," Schmidt said. "For them to believe in me this much, it's a special feeling because of how storied the franchise is. To be able to work for that organization is such a blessing."
Everything that South Carolina does with the baseball program is first class.
With that being said, Schmidt knows that having a reputation as a great college pitcher won't help him get any outs, and he'll have to prove himself all over again.
"You always have something to prove," Schmidt said. "That's been my mentality ever since I was young. I've never wanted to just settle. There is always more that you can do. That's something I pride myself on. Whenever I'm out there pitching, I won't ever be content. I want to pitch with a chip on my shoulder and say that I can get better. There will still be people out there who will doubt me and doubt that I will come back 100 percent. All of that can be used as motivation for me."
Although his South Carolina career was cut short, Schmidt has fond memories of his days in the Garnet and Black, and is thankful for how the coaching staff helped him develop.
"The way the coaching staff and (pitching coach/current interim coach) Jerry Meyers handled things was first class," Schmidt said. "He is one of the greatest pitching coaches out there. It's really hard to describe how good he is and how well he treats his pitchers. I wouldn't be here without him and all of the coaches. Everything that South Carolina does with the baseball program is first class."
If nothing else, Schmidt should have plenty of contacts in the organization as four other former Gamecocks are currently within the Yankees at various levels. That includes Jordan Montgomery, who is currently pitching with the big league club, lefty pitcher Tyler Webb who is in Triple-A, right-hander Taylor Widener in high-A, and also outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.
"I've had a chance to speak to Dom and almost all of those guys," Schmidt said. "I spoke to Jordan Montgomery the night of the draft. We've been messaging quite a bit since he's been stringing together a bunch of really good starts. We'll be in touch a lot for sure."
Schmidt won't be throwing for the Yankees organization this season, but as he rehabilitates his arm, he has had the opportunity to see other professional athletes working through their own injuries.
"At the place I rehab now, I've had a chance to rehab with (former Major League Baseball pitcher) Brandon Beachy, and he's a very personable guy," Schmidt said. "He told me to stay the course, keep my head on straight, and don't let anything deter me. That's always been my mentality, but it was good to get some reassurance. He told me not to worry about money or anything else that will distract me. Just work hard.
"The progress I've made so far is very reassuring."
The Acworth, Ga., native grew up as a fan of the Atlanta Braves, but now he can't wait to get fitted for pinstripes.
"The morning after I was drafted, my dad went out and got a bunch of [Yankees] hats for the family," Schmidt laughed. "The thought of being in Yankee Stadium creeps into my head a little bit before I go to bed. That's the ultimate dream. I want to get up there and maybe pitch before or after Jordan [Montgomery] and help the big club win a World Series."
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