TAMPA — Yankees' top pitching prospect Clarke Schmidt isn't planning on letting his elbow strain derail his goals for this season.
The right-hander is currently shut down with a strain in his right common extensor tendon and he won't throw again for the next three-to-four weeks. That effectively takes him out of contention for a spot on New York's Opening Day roster.
Nonetheless, the 25-year-old believes wholeheartedly that he will have an impact on this pitching staff in 2021.
"My goal hasn't changed at all," Schmidt said in the Yankees' Zoom room on Saturday. "I know that I can log a significant amount of innings up there with the club, and I can really contribute to this team. And I will do that."
Schmidt recalled feeling a sensation in his right arm that he's never felt before following his first bullpen after reporting to spring training. When the tightness persisted into that night, and he lost all range of motion in his arm, Schmidt admitted that his mind began to wander.
For someone that's already had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in his career, back in 2017 when he was in college, he instantly feared the worst.
"As a pitcher, as an athlete, you kind of just think worst case scenario," he said. "You're just sitting there when you're laying down at night and your brain just starts running a little bit."
Fortunately, his strain—comparable to tennis elbow and very uncommon for pitchers—is the "best-case scenario and a minor situation." Schmidt's ligament is intact and seeing the results of an MRI, and his elbow being structurally clean, eased the right-hander's mind.
Schmidt is ranked as New York's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, a starting pitcher that made his MLB debut at the very end of last season. He was poised to contend for a spot in the Yankees' starting rotation this spring, but won't be able to as he recovers from this slight complication. He called the setback a "big blow."
"Right now what I'm focused on is getting healthy," Schmidt said. "That's my number one thing is taking it day-by-day, this is a process. Getting back on the field is my number one goal."
The good news is that before Schmidt began to feel discomfort in his arm at camp, he was in a great place and improving across the board. The prospect said he felt better than he's ever felt starting a season and that his velocity had gone up, touching 97 mph in bullpens.
"I started with throwing my bullpens and stuff earlier this year because obviously I was coming in competing for a job. So I almost wanted to come in as if it was a midseason," Schmidt explained. "I think maybe going into my first bullpen I was kind of letting it go a little bit too much. It's just a maturing process in learning what works and what doesn't work."
In three appearances a year ago, Schmidt posted a 7.11 ERA. He was handed the loss in his one start, allowing three runs over four frames against the Marlins in New York's final game of the regular season.
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