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Schmidt’s Torn UCL A Big Blow For SC

News

South Carolina junior righthander Clarke Schmidt, a second-team preseason All-American who was enjoying a standout spring, will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, an injury that will require Tommy John surgery.

“This is obviously tough news for Clarke and everyone associated with our baseball program,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said in a release. “Clarke is a special kid with a bright future in front of him and our program will be with him every step of the way. He has been an incredible representative of our university and baseball program and I’m sure he will make a full recovery. I have no doubt he will achieve his goal and dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.”

This is a huge blow to South Carolina’s hopes to make a deep postseason run. The Gamecocks ranked fourth in the D1Baseball Preseason Top 25 on the strength of its star-studded pitching staff, which was anchored by Schmidt. The Gamecocks have exciting frontline star power on the mound, but their staff has proven rather thin, and they lost some tight series when flame-throwing closer Tyler Johnson was sidelined for a chunk of the first half. Their Big Five on the mound (Schmidt, Wil Crowe, Adam Hill, Johnson and Josh Reagan) were finally all healthy again during the last two weeks, and we expected the Gamecocks to get hot down the stretch.

But Schmidt exited his Thursday start at Florida in the fifth inning due to forearm tightness. Holbrook told reporters after the game that he was optimistic that Schmidt was only suffering from discomfort, and that he had passed the preliminary tests that would indicate a torn UCL, as The Big Spur’s John Whittle reported.

But he had an MRI on Monday, and the results indicated that he needed Tommy John surgery.

Schmidt entered the season as a likely top-two-rounds draft pick and had boosted his stock through his strong performance, going 4-1, 1.31 with 68 strikeouts and 15 walks in 55 innings. He was on track to be drafted in the first round, showing a blend of high-end stuff and premier competitiveness. The second time I saw him this spring, April 6 against Vanderbilt, Schmidt touched 94-95 mph repeatedly into the middle innings and held his 91-93 mph fastball velocity through seven innings of work. His 81-84 slider regularly flashed plus — it’s a true wipeout pitch for him, and he typically commands it consistently. He has worked to improve his 85-87 changeup, and it has become a serviceable third pitch against lefties, but it remains a work in progress.

Schmidt’s track record, stuff and superb makeup could help him get drafted in the top 50 picks despite the injury, and he could still go in the first round, as UNLV ace Erick Fedde did after having Tommy John surgery in 2014, when he was drafted 18th overall. That’s a perfect analog for Schmidt’s situation. East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman also went in the first round that year (No. 9 overall) after having Tommy John surgery in mid-May, but Hoffman was regarded as a higher-upside talent than Fedde and Schmidt, though he lacked their track record of elite performance in college.

So Schmidt will be fine. The Gamecocks, however, could be in trouble. They have lost four straight weekend series, and in the next two weeks they host No. 6 Kentucky and then travel to No. 13 LSU. The Gamecocks dropped out of the Top 25 this week for the first time this season.

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